A tale about us, charity knitting and the idea for knit-a-square.
I kept putting off writing this page, 'about us', hoping that the brief introduction on the home page would be enough.
But now knit-a-square has begun to develop a life of its own.
You are making contact and visiting the site from around the world, a fact so amazing and exciting, it makes what seemed impossible, possible.
If you are preparing to put your time and money into knitting and sending squares to make blankets for the abandoned children and orphans of South Africa and Zimbabwe, you ought to know who we are, and what credentials we have to ask you to do this.
I say we, because although I am responsible for building the site, that's me, (Sandy McDonald), it would not have happened without Roger, my husband, my mother, Zanny, her sister, my aunt, Ronda, and both our daughters, Kalai and Cressida.
And the fact that I was able to do this at all, which is in itself another story.
So here's the tale about us and the idea for knit-a-square...
It was 2008, although the bigger story began in 1984.
I was born in Zimbabwe and my great-grandmother arrived there as baby. We had a large family and quite a history there. I met Roger, an Australian, in London in 1976, we fell in love and as it was time for me to go home, he came too.
It was a difficult time in Zimbabwe, a nasty guerilla war was being waged, the country was going through a transition period leading from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.
But we were young and determined to be part of the new Switzerland of Africa, so we married, started a business, had our two beautiful daughters and bought a home.
Things ran a little amok in those first four years of independence (although it was civilised by comparison to today in Zimbabwe), suburban crime and violence was on the rise, people were leaving all the time.
We were constantly going to farewell parties, most sadly for our close family - Ronda and her family among them. Every day the standards changed, particularly in regard to health and education.
Leaving the home of our birth . . .
Our home was regularly burgled, but then one day we were robbed in our bedroom, at 2 am, at knife point, while I was pregnant and our first little girl slept in the room opposite us.
Everyone has their bottom line. That was mine.
Two years later, when the girls were four and 18 months old, we left for Australia. That was 1984. We had some furniture, our clothes and $600 Australian dollars, (all we were allowed to take out of Zimbabwe).
. . . and starting all over again in Australia.
Well, we did what everyone does when you start again with two small children - we worked very hard.
As it is for every immigrant, it sometimes seemed unbearable without the support of our family and friends.
The girls, just after we arrived in Australia,
wearing Zanny's early knitted
square vest pullovers.
We missed home terribly, but Australia is a land of opportunity and in time, we made new and great friends and we bought a small, rather derelict cottage, which we still live in. It looks very different now.
And eventually, we started our own marketing and graphic design business called ArtWords, based on our core skills, Roger, the journalist and me, the designer.
The business grew steadily over the next 14 years from the two of us in a room in our house, to a small office with five other members of staff.
2006, when things went wrong
In 2006 we were contemplating our future, imagining the things we would like to do, which included some charity work, and then, things changed rapidly.
In the telling it doesn't sound like much, but I remember saying to Roger that it would take five years to recover financially. I didn't understand at the time what the cost would be emotionally.
Many small business people can tell this tale, I'm sure.
Two of our trusted members of staff left suddenly to start their own business. We didn't see it coming and we were painfully under-prepared to pick up the responsibilities they had taken on and we had let go.
We had little time to find suitable new staff. And no time at all to recover the lost trade then or the future business that they had been building for their own business, while still working for us during the previous months.
We struggled on, never quite recovering the debt or the impetus. Things were pretty bleak in the McDonald household. I became depressed and was unable to see a way forward.
Depression is so awful. I had no sense of joy or purpose and I felt guilty too, as while things were really tough, we had enough to eat and we still had a roof over our heads. Zimbabweans were struggling with a situation far worse than ours.
Saving the business
Our girls, now lovely, young, adult woman with lives of their own, called a council of war.
Cressida took on new business development and Kalai worked in administration. But despite their wonderful efforts, I could not have imagined writing this to you, or that it would be possible to do anything at all for anyone, or that we would have built a website, or . . .
. . . that you could be knitting squares for blankets for the millions of AIDS orphans, that we knew little about then.
Life is just so full of surprises
In May 2008, a young man we met in business, gave me a book about internet entrepreneurs.
It was a wet, rainy Saturday afternoon and with no expectation, I read it. It was like being immersed in a foreign language - words I had never heard of, search engine optimization, affiliate marketing and content 2, but these people made it all sound so simple. Maybe there was a way out of our business woes after all.
I followed up on a contact in the book, one thing led to another and soon we were invited to an internet business seminar.
I don't want to give the impression that we didn't learn an enormous amount during these four days, or that we weren't fantastically excited at the prospects that lay in front of us.
But once we got home, it was like having our heads in a beehive. There was just so much buzzing going on, we couldn't work out which way to start.
A great need is revealed . . .
In June 2008, my aunt from South Africa, Ronda, aware of the fact that her sister, Zanny, was not getting any younger and concerned for us, felt she ought to visit.
She spoke to us at length of life in South Africa, the poverty, the orphans, and the charity work she was involved in through her Catholic parish in Johannesburg.
She told us too, that as it regularly falls below zero degrees in Johannesburg in winter at night, of the cheap blankets she kept in her car to give away to the beggars, many of them children, on the streets. But also of how frustrating it was.
Too few blankets, too many who needed them.
. . . and what to do about it was right in front of our eyes!
Zanny, who emigrated with us in 1984, now lives in a very pretty little country town, not too far from Melbourne. It was hard for her to start again here in Australia, without her family and friends and in her fifties. But among many other gifts, she is blessed with enthusiasm.
She had knitted for years when I was young. One rather unfortunate photograph shows me, aged five, in yellow knitted jumper, trousers, hat and scarf - yellow socks may also have been involved.
When she retired, she learned lawn bowling, how to oil paint, do cross stitch and mosaics.
And then, one day about six years ago, she returned to knitting.
Since then, she has knitted herself, literally into a square circle.
Her knitting talents are awesome, but there are only so many scarves, hats and jumpers you can knit for your family and friends.
So I asked her to knit me a blanket. What a fantastic result.
Knitting all the threads of this yarn together!
I was miserable, looking for a new way, wanting to do something for the wider world rather than fretting about the growing debt in our business.
We had newly-gained, but limited knowledge about the power of the internet and what it was capable of, although at that point we had absolutely no idea how to harness that power.
Ronda had planted a powerful seed about the plight of the AIDS orphans in Africa and the few blankets she was able to give away.
And my mother had just knitted me the most beautiful blanket out of joined rectangles.
Enter Site Build It
After Ronda left, determined to find a way to do something on the internet around these ideas, although filled with uncertainty about what or how, I was scrabbling about on the web from site to site thinking - there must be a key here somewhere.
Why was I missing it? The experts made it sound so easy, but the buzzing just kept growing. Then I found
and watched it.
Thirty minutes later and after months of buzzing in my head, everything went quiet.
Two things happened immediately. Firstly, and instantly, I understood that creating a website to achieve anything was not only possible, but a simple, step by step process.
Secondly, I understood the power of keeping it real.
On review, the sites I returned to were the ones that felt like a conversation with a friend. The nameless, faceless corporate approach to delivering information and services seemed archaic by comparison.
I also learned that anyone with a passion, a life time's knowledge, a hobby, interest or idea could create a website to achieve their most wanted response which could be anything from asking you, a knitter of the world to send squares to Africa for the AIDS orphans, to helping people deal with their health issues to selling your services. There are lots of
which make fascinating reading.
We have the idea but how does it all work?
Quite certain that this was the way forward, I threw myself into the project determined, but greatly pleased to have Site Build it guide me, very gently, through each step. It was far easier than I could have imagined.
Right in the beginning, you learn a very simple truth - the importance of delivering lots of great quality content, more than is required, on the subject your visitors have searched for. That is, after all, why you visit any site.
We loved the generosity of this philosophy.
It is based on giving and the return will be your most desired response, in our case, thousands of knitted blankets for the AIDS orphans.
So apart from absorbing as much of Zanny's knowledge on knitting, Roger and I began researching facts on the
AIDS tragedy in Africa.
The more we learn about the plight of these children, the more determined we are to make a difference in their lives.
Together with you the wonderful women of the Soweto Comfort Club, we will make a difference for these children.
We can't bring back their parents and we must rely on, and support, the great work of the established
to give them homes with love, food and education, but we can make them warm.
So please keep knitting. Roger coined the idea:
Knitting squares to make blankets is like putting your protective arm around a child.
It's a heart-warming idea, isn't it?
The last word in this very long tale (with apologies)
You may be wondering after reading about our business woes, how I can build this site and support myself financially.
Well, firstly, that is why I credited my daughters and husband, way back at the beginning of this tale. Between them, they have taken over my role in ArtWords, so I can do more work on knit-a-square. Although, many people who develop their own sites with Site Build It, do it part time over a longer period, while holding down full time jobs.
Secondly, Site Build It takes you through a range of ideas to make an income, like Google Adsense, e-books and selling relevant products. The key to all, you are strongly advised, is that it should be relevant, appropriate and in your visitors' interest, which sat comfortably with me.
As some of the
reveal, many people, using SBI, have gone on to entirely support themselves from their websites.
I have created
about SBI for those of you who have a dream to create a website, but like me no idea how to go about it.