It started with two women reading a book and flourished into a community working together in support of vulnerable women on the other side of the world. The Garrard family and their friends worked together, and apart, to knit two colourful blankets in support of the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation and Dr Catherine Hamlin’s vision of a future free of obstetric fistula. Their story, told through three generations of the family, is one of dedication and love.
The Garrards and their friends created two blankets: an autumnal blanket and a vibrant, multi-coloured blanket. Of the two blankets, the autumnal blanket best represents a community coming together to support women suffering with fistula; ten people gave up their time in the crafting of the one blanket.
Hamlin champions Patricia, Jenny and Victoria told us about their journey in knitting the blankets. Their story, told through three generations of the family, is one of dedication and love.
Patricia, the family matriarch, had followed the work of Drs Reg and Catherine Hamlin’s work for several years, yet it wasn’t until she read Catherine’s autobiography, ‘The Hospital By the River’, that Patricia “gained a fuller appreciation of the pioneering work that they developed.”
With a background in nursing, and a keen interest in paediatrics and obstetrics, Patricia was interested in doing something practical to support fistula patients in Ethiopia. “I live in Canberra, where the four seasons are very distinct, and I love the autumn. I bought some autumn-coloured wool and, as time permitted, I would knit with love,” recounts Patricia.
However, Patricia’s work was not to be a solo effort: her daughter, Jenny, and her grandchildren, including Victoria, lived nearby. “I wondered if it would be possible for me to teach them how to knit so that three generations could work together to contribute to this worthy cause,” says Patricia.
Knitting had long been an intergenerational hobby in the Garrard family. “My mother, Patricia, taught my daughter, Victoria, how to knit over a number of years,” says Jenny. The idea to knit a blanket was one that germinated for some time. “Mum had suggested that we all work on knitting a blanket for the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation. In 2016, this idea really began to materialise,” recounts Jenny.
Whilst not an avid knitter, Jenny took a more holistic approach to the project. “Knitting is not a great love of mine but working together on a project for a good cause is. I took the knitting with me to work on while Victoria did horse riding lessons. Another mum there took interest and joined in our project as well,” says Jenny.
As such, the family project began to morph into something bigger. Jenny was thrilled by the idea: “I loved the concept of making a community blanket.”
Victoria caught the knitting bug from Patricia early on. “I can remember learning and re-learning how to knit with Grandma. This process started from very early on and has continued over the years. In terms of craft, knitting would be up there as one of [my] favourites,” says Victoria.
The Duke of Edinburgh scheme, which many school students participate in, was an incentive for the knitting project. When Victoria started the Duke of Edinburgh scheme in Year 9, she found it difficult to choose her community service project. After facilitating painting lessons for children, Victoria spent two years knitting squares to create colourful blankets for the Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation, as part of her Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh awards.
Having her family and community members join together to create something was meaningful for Victoria. “Like my mum, I enjoyed working with many people to make a blanket for a good cause. One of my favourite parts, as well as one of the most challenging, was when the rest of the family joined in with stitching the squares together. It certainly showed us that you need a team of people with different strengths to complete a common goal. Our goal was completed with the help of approximately ten people,” Victoria reflects.
Blankets: a Hamlin tradition
Since early on, it has been a tradition to give each Hamlin patient a colourful blanket. Hamlin blankets are symbolic of the love and respect with which each fistula patient is embraced with once they reach a Hamlin fistula hospital. From time to time supporters, such as the Garrards, raise money for fistula patients by knitting blankets to sell at the Hamlin Shop. As no one is travelling to Ethiopia at the moment we are not currently accepting donations of handmade blankets for patients, nevertheless we gladly accept the donation of blankets to sell at the Hamlin Shop in support of Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
Click here to learn more about how you can get Hands On for Hamlin.