When Bertha Tiemstra first knit herself an infinity scarf and then a few more as gifts for family members, she had no idea that her scarves would soon be in big demand all the way from the southern Alberta hamlet of Picture Butte, where she lives, to the northern city of Edmonton and several towns in between.
Leighton Kolk, a fellow church member of Iron Springs Christian Reformed Church, owns a cattle operation in Iron Springs. When he saw Tiemstra’s scarves, he ordered 20 for his farm workers even though 16 of them are men. They were perfect, he said. The scarves, which Tiemstra made shorter in length than usual, keep the workers’ necks and faces warm on cold winter days and there are no loose ends to get caught in the machinery.
In no time, Tiemstra began receiving phone calls and requests from more individuals.
A little over a year ago, Tiemstra moved to Iron Springs from Edmonton, where she had been an active member of Women of Hope—one of 240 grandmothers’ groups in Canada affiliated with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It didn’t take long for Tiemstra to join Harambee, a similar grandmother’s group in Lethbridge, close to Iron Springs.
Harambee means “working together to ease a burden” in Swahili. Groups like Women of Hope and Harambee raise awareness and money to support grandmothers in Africa as they deal with the impact of HIV/AIDS, which has turned Africa into a continent with a large number of orphans being raised by grandmothers.
“Lots of people want the infinity scarves that I knit,” said Tiemstra. “They buy them, and I keep the cost of the yarn to buy more yarn but donate the rest of the money to Harambee. It goes to help grandmothers in Africa as well as funding medications for AIDS.”
Four other grandmothers have volunteered to knit scarves for Tiemstra. One, Sylvia Dykstra, “is a ferocious knitter,” says Tiemstra, “and can knit two scarves to my one.”
Tiemstra has a heart for Africa and its needs. An experienced teacher now retired, she has been volunteering in Africa for the past five years, helping teachers at seven schools with curriculum planning and teaching methods. She will return again at the end of January for eight weeks. No doubt she’ll be packing her knitting needles.