Knitters stitch on to Syrian refugee charity campaign

Emirati and expatriate knitters work together to make baby blankets and booties for Syrian refugees.

Volunteer knitters craft squares to be sewn together for blankets to be sent to Syrian refugee mothers and babies. Courtesy of Sandra Patricia Abo El Nour
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ABU DHABI // Many residents have gladly opened their wallets to help Syrian refugees, but one group of fund-raisers has turned to stitches and purls to support the cause.

For the past four months about 60 Emiratis and expatriates have been involved in Destination Syria, where they knit baby booties and blankets to give to mothers and children in refugee camps.

Last week they sent off their first shipment of about 300 items.

“Our Destination Syria project is personal,” said Sandra Abo El Nour, who organised the project.

“It is mother to mother, from mothers here in Abu Dhabi and the UAE directly to mothers and babies in Syria and Syrian refugee camps.”

About 2.3 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011 and the UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 9 per cent of them are younger than 5.

An unusually cold, snowy winter has made aid to refugees even more urgent, as thousands of them live in tent camps.

Last weekend, an Emirates Red Crescent campaign managed to raise more than Dh120 million for the refugees through a telethon and collections in malls.

Ms Abo El Nour, a Briton who has lived in the UAE since 1988, said she had the idea for her project during one of her regular volunteering sessions at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“We thought, what can we do? We’re not politicians, so we thought, what do they need? Winter is coming,” she said.

A keen knitter, Ms Abo El Nour placed a note on the hospital noticeboard seeking other volunteers.

“Almost everyone said yes because the aim was to send something beautiful, something warm, to the mothers and babies in Syria, gift-wrapped beautifully with a handwritten message in each one, as if it’s going to a very special person, in the same way as I would like to receive it if I just had a baby,” she said.

Those with little or no knitting expertise were given lessons. Then she recruited more knitters from groups such as The Club, the Higher Colleges of Technology and the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Knitting Group.

LuLu Hypermarket’s Khalidiya branch donated wool and needles and the Emirates Red Crescent agreed to ship the gifts to a refugee camp, probably one in Jordan.

A typical blanket made by the volunteers consists of up to 40 patches of 9 centimetres by 9cm. Each square takes less than an hour for a more advanced knitter or two hours for beginners.

A pair of booties can take up to four hours.

Volunteers gained from the project, Ms Abo El Nour said. As beginners improved friendships were formed and those who hadn’t knitted in years reconnected with the hobby.

Some volunteers felt compelled to write personalised notes to the women who would receive the knitted goods. If they were in English, an Arabic translation was included.

“I have seen the love and care that has gone into the making of each item and watched as messages of support and love have been written and placed in with each and every item,” Ms Abo El Nour said.

She now hopes to gather more volunteers and handmade items for another shipment, and plans to visit a refugee camp.

Ms Abo El Nour encouraged everyone to try their hand at knitting for the refugees.

“The beauty of this is that you can be sitting having a conversation with your family and still be knitting,” she said.

“You can be sitting in the passenger [seat] of a car and be knitting. You can be sitting at the doctor’s office.”

For more information, email Ms Abo El Nour at tamsara@emirates.net.ae.

lcarroll@thenational.ae