The KAS Story
The organization was founded in October 2008 after a family reunion in Melbourne, Australia in June of the same year.
It is based on the grim reality of 2.4 million children orphaned, abused or abandoned in southern Africa. They live in dire poverty. They lack love, shelter, food, education and warmth.
In 1984 two close families in Zimbabwe separated through emigration. One–Sandy and Roger McDonald and their two daughters, Kalai and Cressida—moved to Australia. The other—Ronda and Peter Lowrie and their two daughters Sian and Erin—went to South Africa.
Ronda became an active charity worker in Soweto.
In conversation with her niece, Sandy, during the family reunion, Ronda identified one of the many basic problems for orphans in South Africa as a chronic shortage of blankets, especially at altitude in the cold high-veld winters. The problem is common to many other poor communities in South Africa. She explained she regularly handed out blankets to cold children on the side of the road at night.
Greatly disturbed by the magnitude of this unheralded tragedy, Sandy and Roger developed the idea that they could start an online movement. It would call on the world’s knitters and crocheters to knit standard 8”/20cm squares and send them to Ronda in South Africa. There, volunteers would make them up into blankets for distribution to these children. The idea for www.knit-a-square.com was born.
Sandy called on the knowledge of her mother Zanny, Ronda’s older sister and a prolific knitter, to assist her in developing patterns for the website and creating the How To Knit e-lessons. Zanny’s gift to Sandy of a blanket made of squares was an inspiration for the original idea.
Armed with a just a little knowledge of the online space and its potential to connect people, Sandy and Roger worked for many months to construct the website and brand the concept. They learned as they went about how to create appropriate content that knitters would find.
The research they did on the plight of these children was invested in scores of pages of passionate content aimed at informing the visitors to the website of the situation the children were in, while empowering them to act by knitting, crocheting and sending squares.
Roger coined the slogans, ‘More hands, more squares, more warm children”, and ‘your knitted square, a currency of hope”.
A trickle of squares began to arrive in early 2009. That trickle became a stream after American yarn giant, Lion Brand, ran a small story on the Knit-a-square project in its February 2009 newsletter. This publicity, together with other online traffic driving strategies, helped drive more many thousands of knitters and crocheters to the site. Soon the stream became a torrent.
In South Africa
Ronda's contacts though her church community and in Soweto provided desperately needed help as the deluge of squares arrived.
These good people, together with her daughter Erin Van der Vyver, Lindiwe Ngwenya and Wandile Mkhwanazi, who have become permanent volunteers, began the tireless work that continues today.
They open the parcels, record where the squares had been sent from, package them into 35 square bundles, and organise for a variety of communities, including the go-gos (grandmothers), to sew them into blankets.
Lindi and Wandi identified scores of small day care centres in the shack settlements, put together by enterprising women to look after the children. Most of the finished blankets, together with hats and toys are distributed to the small children in these centres.
People around the world, greatly moved by the issue, offered to help in many ways. One such suggestion to assist in handling the volume of enquiries as a result of the response to the Lion Brand story, led to Sandy establishing the Square Circle moderated forum in May 2009.
The aim of the forum soon became to support and nurture the growing community. Members were and continue to be encouraged and assisted to develop ideas that challenge, excite and inspire new and existing members’ ongoing contributions. These include hats, sweaters, toys and educational material.
Membership continues to grow today under the hard-working administration of Pam Antink in the UK and a band of dedicated moderators worldwide.
In the early years, working full time as volunteers, Sandy’s and Roger's focus became twofold; firstly, to support and build on this community and secondly, to raise awareness of the plight of the children.
The McDonald daughters Kalai and Cressida joined in 2009 to help implement strategies online to build the community, establishing the Facebook group and developing the KasKidsTM schools' program.
This program had the capacity to put the issue in front of hundreds of thousands of school children and their families globally as well as introducing them to Knit-a-square. It is estimated that the program has been introduced to 750 schools worldwide.
Ronda continued to build on her church and community networks to keep on wrapping blankets around children. Each time she and her volunteers wrap a blanket around a child, they tell them they are special and have a unique role to play in their country.
A picture tells a thousand words
As these efforts had to be communicated to the members, Ronda took thousands of photographs of the children and their blankets, the volunteers and the shack settlements, often captioned to tell the story of this remarkable work on the ground in South Africa.
The stories together with the often-exquisite work done by the stitchers were assembled into newsletters and distributed first by Sandy as the Square Circle ezine and later by Pam as KasSnippets.
These newsletters have kept the community informed of the results of their work and of the gatherings of groups of people all over the world who contribute to this cause.
The decision to become a charity
It soon became clear that funding would be required to ensure support for at least the South African operation, so the decision was made to incorporate Knit-a-square under the name KasCare. It became a registered charity in Australia in September 2009.
In Easter 2010, the family gathered in South Africa for a reunion.
It was apparent that Ronda was in need of urgent support and resources to sustain the massive volunteer effort she was managing as the contributions continued to pour in. The first appeal was sent in April 2010.
Knit-a-square South Africa was incorporated in South Africa shortly after.
Much needed help from G4S and Wendy Hardy
During this visit, a mutual friend introduced the McDonalds to Wendy Hardy. Wendy was working at the time for G4S South Africa, a branch of one of the world’s largest security firms, she immediately saw the opportunity to help. Initially, she organised to have blankets sewn together by offenders in a large prison which is managed by G4S.
She became a dedicated volunteer herself. Later G4S sponsored and provided a 2 litre van, free of cost other than for fuel, for use in the distributions.
A change of chairs
Erica Smith, a forum administrator, also in Melbourne had been contributing to many aspects of the organization, including building the KasShop. She stepped up to help further when the McDonalds had to return to full-time paid work in 2012.
At the end of 2013, Sandy resigned as chair of KasCare and Erica took on the role. Sandy remains on the board of KasCare as co-founder and ambassador.