By Alix Norman
“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination,” said the late, great Nelson Mandela. And if he’d added ‘good hands’ it would be the perfect description of Stephanie Pavlides. Because Stephanie is a knitter who has been championing her own peaceful revolution in Cyprus: 67 Blankets for Madiba Day.
It’s a worthy cause that started in South Africa, Stephanie’s native land, and sprang from the idea that people the world over pay tribute to the 67 years of Mandela’s service with the equivalent number of minutes of kindness on his birthday, July 18. Known as ‘Madiba Day’ in honour of the great leader’s Xhosa clan, this is a date which has also united knitters and crocheters the world over as – in a particularly crafty act of kindness -each country involved aims to produce at least 67 handmade blankets by that time. With the motto ‘stitch by stitch we can make a difference and keep people warm this winter’ the so-called ‘knitwits’ are striving, in their own way, to make a real difference to those in need. And here in Cyprus, the local group are well on their woolly way to reaching their goal, thanks to Stephanie’s efforts.
“The whole movement began with Carolyn Stein,” says Stephanie who, in her seventies, is full of life and laughter. “Challenged by Mandela’s former personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, to do something special for Madiba Day, Carolyn came up with the idea of making blankets for those in need. In South Africa, people used to wrap themselves in blankets in the colder weather – it was a common sight to see people walking along all huddled up,” Stephanie explains. “And for those who couldn’t afford a coat or jersey, a blanket was the best solution.
“It’s a movement that’s taken off in Australia, the UK, Canada, even India,” she continues. “Mandela was really an extraordinary human being, and we’re doing this with his name attached to do good, to do kindnesses – that’s what it’s really all about.” And, it seems, the movement couldn’t really have come at a better time for the island. With more and more families finding it hard to survive, this project will no doubt be bringing welcome relief come the winter months. “There are people on the island under terrible stress and strain,” says Stephanie. “People who really haven’t got anything. So when I heard about the project through Facebook, everything seemed to fall into place.”
With the idea being to donate the blankets to the elderly and local orphanages, Stephanie is planning that the blankets should go “somewhere personal. I like the idea of the blankets going to orphanages here in Cyprus,” she says. “They’re a place where nothing actually belongs to the children, so having a blanket of their own, to take with them when they leave, is very important I feel.”
Stephanie herself is now on her second blanket, the first being a riot of jewel-like colours that will no doubt make someone very happy – and warm – this winter. And she’s fully confident that, come July 18, there will be more than 67 blankets to hand over to those in need. With the help of Kindness Cyprus, an organisation which will help anyone and everyone on the island who requires support, Stephanie has fast been recruiting knitwits and ‘happy hookers’ to her cause. But though there are currently over 50 people helping in Larnaca alone, the movement originally got off to a slow start.
“I launched the idea into the void,” Stephanie says, explaining that she put out the message that she would be at the Flamingo Hotel in Larnaca on Tuesday mornings and all and sundry were welcome to join in the knitting. “But that first week, nobody came,” she laughs. “And then it was the same the next week. I sat there furiously crocheting away all by myself! So, in desperation, I phoned one of my artistic friends and begged her to join me and bring her crochet. She did, and then some of her group came along, and then they brought their families and friends… and now we’ve got quite a gathering going on, with groups in every major city on the island!
“It’s not as though you have to get a whole blanket finished in a week,” Stephanie adds. “I tend to settle down in front of the television in the afternoon with my crochet and my crime series, and do a couple of squares a day.” It’s a particularly lovely way to help people, crafting something meaningful with your own hands, and this is the idea behind the project, she says: “It’s too easy to walk into a shop and buy a blanket – this is giving of yourself, giving time, pouring out of yourself a gift that will keep on giving.”
With the project now going so well, there’s talk of extending beyond the July 18 deadline. “We’ll definitely have our 67 blankets by the summer, what with everyone who’s knitting away industriously in Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos as well as Larnaca,” says Stephanie delightedly. “We may even carry on through to November, and make it a winter project too.”
There’s no doubt that, despite its slow start, 67 Blankets for Madiba Day has been a success story for Stephanie. “I’m so honoured and delighted to be part of this. At the same time I’m doing something for somebody else, I’m doing something for myself; it’s given me a new lease on life and I absolutely love it,” she concludes.
It’s certainly wonderful to see someone putting their talents to such charitable good use, and just hearing her enthusiasm for the project has been more than enough to make people all over Cyprus break out their needles and get knitting. So if you, too, have been inspired, and are possessed of a good heart, head and hands, why not drop Stephanie a line. And become a knitwit with a cause.
For more details on the project ‘67 Blankets for Madiba Day’, call Stephanie Pavlides on 99 940571, email [email protected] or visit the Facebook page 67 Blankets for Madiba Day Cyprus