by Megan Stacey
When she’s in the zone and her knitting needles are flying, it only takes Fran Milburn about a day to crank out a cute little toy bear.
In just a few months, she’s knit more than 300 teddy bears.
Some have suspenders and some have scarves.
Others have cute little skirts.
Fran is one of Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia’s most prolific and dedicated knitters. She’s been re-writing the manual on knitting those cute little bears.
“We started out with just the boys, and then Fran came up with this brilliant pattern,” said Betty Lou Chambers, a longtime MWAHFE volunteer who first began knitting these bears back in 2014.
At that point it was a unisex bear with a little scarf around the neck.
“They need twirl skirts!” Fran added with a smile.
She took to the project quickly. One day at church Betty Lou learned that someone had left a bag for her – it turned out to be stuffed full of little bears knit by Fran.
“She’d only had the pattern for a week,” Betty Lou said.
It began as a way to bring a little bit of joy to children in Ethiopia. Volunteers heading to Ethiopia with MWAHFE would pack bears to hand out to children in Soddo Christian Hospital, the Busajo program – which helps kids move off the streets and into a safe home where education is a priority – and other places that serve vulnerable youngsters.
“When you see the kids and see what they don’t have, oh my goodness,” said Betty Lou, who travelled to Ethiopia with MWAHFE in 2013.
“You have to remember, you can’t take the Western world to them, nor should you. That’s their culture. But the one thing we thought about these (bears) is that they’re soft, and it’s something they could take to bed with them, for comfort.”
Soon, there were so many bears that Mothers with a Heart for Ethiopia knew it would be impossible to take them all on the next trip to Ethiopia.
Founder Shelley Green suggested selling the additional bears as a fundraiser.
Bears for Busajo was born.
Each little bear comes with a tag letting the donor know about the child they are supporting in the Busajo program. Bears for Busajo debuted at a recent Mini Gems & Java, and both the teddies and the personal tag were extremely well received.
In the meantime, knitter extraordinaire Fran has been tweaking the pattern to make the bears even better.
She designed little skirts for the girl bears, and added details to hide seams on the boy bears. All the knitters began using a brown yarn instead of white so that the bears would be more appropriate for Ethiopian children.
“I’ve had a couple people that have done one, but they found them a little complicated to do,” Betty Lou said of the project.
“We have a blind lady at church that made one. She was very determined,” Fran added. “She gave it to her granddaughter.”
Fran’s daughter took some of her mother’s knitting down to Haiti on a service trip. The bears were a big hit.
“One little girl had six of them laying on the bench, and she was being mom to all of them. As soon as someone would lay one down she would grab it. She was collecting her family,” Fran said with a chuckle.
It’s a sweet memory, but it illustrates a larger point – one that Fran learned herself on trips to Haiti and Mozambique.
“A gleam in the eye, and a smile on their face, and they have nothing,” Fran said of the children she met on her trips.
“You go there to be a blessing to the people, and you’re the one who gets blessed.”
To buy a bear and support Busajo, head to:
Woodstock - Roberts & Co. Ladies Wear at 491 Dundas St.
Ingersoll - Roberts & Co. Ladies Wear at 122 Thames St. S.
Kitchener - Freedom in Christ Church at 1643 Bleams Rd.
Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more locations!