So often when you knit for charity, you just send it "out there" and hope it reaches the right person at the right time.
For the Mittens for Akkol group, however, is more personal. Nanci, the director of M4A, takes the knitted items personally over to the orphanages and delivers them to each child. On this last trip she carried items for each graduate. The grads are each 15-16 years old and would be leaving the orphanage. The goal was to have a full set of handknits, plus some additional items to help set them up as they were going out into the world. Here's her account of the parties. Interspersed are some photos of the knits that I sent. In each photo was one thing that I had made. Two were sweaters and two were socks. Can you spot them?
"The Akkol Party
The party in Akkol turned out to be on Monday, a day earlier than I had planned. I found out it was going to be Monday ON Monday early in the afternoon! There was a fair bit of hurrying to put it together, but I had already gotten the blankets and put together the grad gifts, so the biggest part was done. We weren't able to get their toiletries and other goodies until after the party, but we did that the next day.
We had the party in the dining room. Patricia (the other Akkol mom) and I went to the center and I bought all of the juice, fruit, nuts, and candies a couple of hours before the party. When we got back to the orphanage, we had help getting all of the party treats into the kitchen, then Patricia went with the taxi driver to pick up the grad gifts at the house we were staying at on the other side of the village. They were packed in three big suitcases plus two duffel bags of extras (just in case something didn't fit). It was a good thing that Patricia was with me or else there would not have been enough time to get it all done!
Meanwhile, back at the orphanage, the ladies in the kitchen washed all of the fruit and put everything in bowls and on plates. Some of the girls from the 9th grade came and helped them. Some of the boys also came. They arranged all of the tables and chairs into one big table for the party. Then Patricia arrived with the suitcases and we unpacked all of the gifts while the kids went to the closet where the blankets were kept and brought all of the blankets to the dining room. All of the food and cups were put on the table and it was time for the party to begin!
Someone went to call the rest of the 9th class and the 11th class as well. When everyone was assembled, Borya asked if their mama (caretaker) could also come to the party. Of course! Someone went to get her. When they returned, we began.
I gave a short speech which Almira, the English teacher, translated. I congratulated them on completing their education at the school and for beginning their new lives soon. I said it was an exciting time for them, but also a little frightening. I asked them to remember that they were not alone in the world, that they had each other and to always remember they were family and should help each other. Then I talked about how much the ladies who knit for them care about them. How they have printed out their photos and thought about them while they knitted their gifts. How in their hearts they are their children and grandchildren and that they are praying for them and wishing for them good and happy lives. And how when they wear their hand knits they will be getting a warm hug from someone who loves them very much. The children listened intently while I spoke.
After I spoke, Almira announced that the children had prepared a song for the occasion and that they had written and learned extra words in English! The song was lovely. After singing, everyone dove into the fruits, nuts and candies on the table. It is a rare occasion for the kids to have so many treats and they devoured them!
When there was almost nothing left, we began handing out the gifts. Almira called each of the children to the front and presented them with their gift bags. Each child then chose a blanket and posed for a photo. There was a little bit of drama as there were three blue blankets with a picture of a dolphin that many children hoped to get. Next year I will remember to ask for extra dolphins! After receiving their gifts, each child donned his/her sweater, hat, scarf and mittens and posed with socks in hand for a second photo. Before putting on their hand knits, however, most children opened their cards and read their letters. The letters mean a lot to the kids. They especially like the cards with photos and of course, a little spending money! It sounded like Christmas morning in the dining room as children compared cards and letters and helped each other get dressed for the second photo. They were laughing and chattering happily, having a good time.
The 11th class had already received their hand knits when they were in the 9th class, but they each received a card and a blanket at this party. After the party in Urupinka, I met with the 11th class again and gave them each extra hand knits that they needed.
The next day, we completed the shopping for the toiletries and other gifts. Each child in the 9th and 11th classes received an alarm clock, a photo album, a comb, a large bottle of shampoo, soap and toothpaste (American toothpaste was specifically requested by the older girls). We would have also bought toothbrushes, but we couldn't find any. Next year I will take them with me. We had planned to buy tampons for the girls, but they told us they would not use those. They preferred the moon pads (washable, reuseable pads) that one of our Mittens for Akkol members made. They each received 4-5 of them with their hand knits, plus they had received more in their Christmas stockings last December. Our budget was not totally exhausted after purchasing the toiletries, so I gave the balance to the directors in Akkol and Urupinka to purchase whatever else the children would need before they left the orphanage.
The Urupinka Party
If you have read The Trip to Urupinka, you know that I was taking more than fruit and hand knits to the orphanage there! If you have not yet read that note, you really should. I was given the amazing gift of permission to take all of the Akkol children who have siblings in Urupinka with me to Urupinka on Wednesday to visit their siblings, some for the first time in five years! I was so happy to be a part of that wonderful experience!
After our bus arrived in Urupinka, we unloaded all of the fruit and gifts for the party, then the children went off to meet their siblings. Meanwhile, in the dining room, preparations were just the same as for the Akkol party. Fruits were washed, tables and chairs were arranged and gifts were laid out. Zhanna, Zhanna and Vera, the ladies who help me in Urupinka, were very excited to see the photos of the children that I had brought from December. I had photos of every child, enough prints for each child to receive a photo.
It was after we looked at the photos of the 9th class members that I was informed that there were four new children in the class, three boys and one girl. There were also two girls who had already left the orphanage. One of the ladies suggested we take the gifts for one of the missing girls and give it to the new girl. I asked if they could get the gifts to the two girls who had left already and was told they could, so it was decided that those two girls would be given their own gifts. Fortunately, I had extra sets and extra items and in the end, I was able to outfit all four of the extra children with complete hand knit sets!
When the children assembled for the party, I gave the same short speech I had given in Akkol, this time with the help of Zhanna, the English teacher in Urupinka. Vera made a few remarks and then the party began. The children enjoyed their party very much.
After almost everything had been eaten, we passed out the gifts and took photos. Then the fittings for the extra children took place and more photos were taken. The children in Urupinka received their toiletries and other gifts with their hand knits.
The children were all very happy to receive their gifts! After the Akkol party, I was in Akkol only two more days. During that time, I saw several of the children wearing their sweaters, scarves and hats. It was still cool in Kazakhstan at the end of May. They looked so pleased to be wearing something made just for them.
All of the staff who spoke to me expressed appreciation for all that our group does for them. Several of the women had tears in their eyes as they spoke. They were so happy that someone cared about their kids enough to knit for them and buy them things they need.
I cannot say this often enough. This group is awesome and I do mean that in the sense of being in awe of all that you do. None of this would be possible without you. Thank you so much!
Help Us Help Orphans www.mittensforakkol.com"