"Blankets for Babies" and the Village Knitters

An Interview with CEF Executive Director Susan McDonald

By Michael Markowsky for Compassionate Eye Foundation, Photography by Liz Kearsley

Can you tell me about how the “Blankets for Babies” came to be?

One of the questions that we are often asked is, "What can I do to help?" An idea Compassionate Eye Foundation (CEF) is trying to foster is there are many different ways that a person can support the organisation. Everyone can contribute something, and usually we can find a way for that to work.

A group of women in Steveston (south of Vancouver, Canada) call themselves the 'Village Knitters'.  They heard about a Pre and Post Natal project that CEF is supporting in a rural community within Guatemala called Comitancillo and they wanted to do something to help.

The founder of the knitting group is Edith Petersen. She began about a year and a half ago by putting up posters around Steveston, and 40 women showed up at the first meeting! These are women of all ages, who meet weekly.  It has become very vibrant group. It's not a teaching class, just people getting together and sharing expertise.

Some of the members have participated in a project to make helmet liners for soldiers in Afghanistan.  This was a national project and in the end, the Steveston Knitters had contributed 560 of the liners sent overseas.

When that project ended, a group of women were open to contributing to another project.  The Blankets for Babies idea for the Pre and Post Natal Program resonated with them.

Can you tell me about the Pre- and Post-Natal Program CEF supports in Guatemala?

Yes, it is a really valuable project that we are a part of. The infant mortality rate in this particular area of Guatemala is close to 50%, there is virtually no medical support in the rural areas and, if there are difficulties during a birth there are no vehicles to get the mothers to distant medical facilities.

This project was created to offer information and services to women who are expecting. It provides maternal health information, prenatal vitamins, and information about infant care.

Infant clothing is difficult to find in rural Guatemala. I suggested the Village Knitters might want to create some blankets.

Edith presented the idea to the group and there was a great response. The group came up with beautiful fabric that is flame resistant and dries well.  This is important because many of the Guatemalan women are working around open fires. The blanket they designed had a little hat, an extra triangular piece of fabric to keep the babies' heads warm. They embroidered each blanket with a unique decoration, like plants or flowers so each blanket is different. They also knitted little toques for each newborn child, so each child will get a blanket and a hat.

When will the blankets and hats be delivered to the children in Guatemala?

The blankets will be going down to Guatemala during the first part of this year.

If other people or groups are interested in contributing to CEF, what should they do?

Our byline has always been; 'Come Join Our Creative Community.' CEF has always welcomed people who have something to contribute. We have volunteers doing a wide variety of jobs that allow us to operate as an organization! I think virtually everyone can bring something to the table. It’s a matter of finding a good fit between an individual’s skills and passions, and our needs as an organization.

We have a number of volunteer positions that we need talented people to fill.  Some are long term, and some last only for a part of a day.  The more resources we have to draw on the more projects we can support in developing nations.

Please contact Susan McDonald at susan.mcdonald@compassionateeye.org if you are interested in contributing.