In the past few months Fethiye Times readers have been asking us ‘what can we do to help the Syrian refugees in Turkey’? Our enquiries of the authorities revealed no official community-based support in Muğla. All the wonderful work that is being done, is happening as a result of generous, dedicated groups and individuals.
Most national and international NGOs and charities have started their own appeals, that can be accessed on line but last week FT met Dianne Jones when she was in Fethiye for a few days. She modestly describes herself as a ‘happy knitter’ and certainly she’s a woman with a passion for knitting. She is also someone who, when faced with the tragedies unfolding in Syria and the Mediterranean, has not only said ‘what can I do?’ but has actually done something. And what she has done and is doing is quite extraordinary.
Dianne was spending a few days with another happy knitter, Rosie Simpson. they had met as a result of Rosie also thinking, ‘what can I do?’ and were delighted to discover they were kindred spirits. The two of them spend much, if not most of their free time, knitting or crocheting, and as Rosie said,
The great thing about knitting and crocheting is that you can chat at the same time! I always have something on the go, mostly for my family, but at the moment I’m doing my bit for Dianne. Being able to help in some way, no matter how small, is really important and I know what I am making will help someone.
So, what is it they are doing, exactly?
Just trying to help…
Dianne, who has lived in Kuşadasi with her husband, Mehmet, for the past 16 years, said that she already had an active knitting blog, which featured a charity every week, based on the tried and tested Knit a Square project. As a result of a family tragedy she then started a blog called LILY – Love in the Language of Yarn. This is not just a clever acronym, it was originally a way for Dianne to remember her grand daughter, who was stillborn. Through this she continued with her work, while helping various organisations and charitable projects.
But things changed, more dramatically than Dianne and her husband could ever have imagined, when she saw on what was happening on Turkish TV and heard about Syrian refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey to escape the fighting and persecution in their own country; currently somewhere in the region of two million refugees are living in Turkish refugee camps. And winter is on the way.
How it all happened
It was back in March 2012 that Dianne, all too aware of what’s happening, as she also has relatives in the region, asked herself that important question we all ask at sometime or other, ‘what can I do to help?’ and decided to use her blog and social media to ask others the same question, suggesting they might like to knit a square or two to help…
The response was way beyond her expectations.
Since LILY – Love in the Language of Yarn – started in March 2012 they have received 1,692,994 knitted squares.
So far, LILY has distributed…. 26,546 blankets
28,000 pairs of socks
8,316 pairs baby socks/booties
12,604 pairs gloves/mittens
3,564 premature baby layettes
2,200 girls dresses
4,000 Tee shirts
2,000 pairs boys shorts
…all hand made a given with love
…Plus 8,000 food parcels, more than 1,650 packs towelling nappies and over 50 tons baby formula.
Dianne has overcome many hurdles to date but notably has been able to establish a dernek, a Turkish word that describes the kind of official association you need for fund raising and charitable work of any kind in Turkey.
But it doesn’t stop there
Since her request for knitted squares back in 2012, which resulted in such an amazing response, her work has expanded exponentially to help with some of the other problems being faced by ordinary Syrian people and families who are still in Syria: in towns like Kobane, where everyday things like bread are becoming scarce, all the bakeries have been destroyed.
They are now helping local people to make the bread by providing flour. The have also provided the support needed to deliver the fresh bread, as queuing each morning is too dangerous. More recently they have started working with a company to provide families in the Turkish camps with water purifying equipment.
Helping women to help themselves
What’s more, Lily is helping women in the camps to knit and sell their own products, just to make some much needed money. She says it empowers these women, who have lost everything; it’s something small but essential for morale, especially in their current difficult circumstances. Dianne explains,
We provide all the knitting needles, crochet hooks and yarn, so the women can help themselves. When you arrive in a camp with little more than what you’re wearing, knitting some clothes for your family makes you feel you’re doing something and the fact that they can sell some of the things they make helps too.
On the surface a quiet, self-effacing middle-aged woman, Dianne has not sat on her laurels and on occasion has gone to the top to get the help she needs. With the help of the Kuşadasi authorities she even had a 20 minutes meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now president of Turkey but at the time, prime minister. He kindly offered help, providing a lorry to take the knitting down to the camps.
Help Lily make a difference today
Now Lily has its own transport, which is just as well as the amount of knitting that arrives at the port in Izmir and by every post from all over the world, requires regular trips to the camps to distribute the generous donations. As Dianne said,
We are getting parcels of knitted squares, whole blankets, clothes, hats of all colors, shapes and sizes in huge and small parcels and these are literally coming from all over the world. This is a global response to a tragedy, much of which is seen in the camps in Turkey. We are also getting so many offers of help from people and companies, everyone is proving to be more generous and helpful than I ever imagined. The refugees need everything we can provide, and will need even more when the winter comes.
Lily is supported by businesses and individuals in Turkey and around the world with donations of yarn, knitting and crocheting or the transportation of completed blankets to receiving agencies. People are making generous donations of money too, all of which goes to support the projects and refugees.
Lily has no paid employees. All the work is done on a strictly volunteer basis. Lily wishes to thank all those private individuals and businesses that have and are continuing to support the work. Everyone involved with Lily works hard for the day when they are no longer needed to help keep children warm.
With the first heavy rains of autumn already here and the winter snows not far away, Dianne and her team will be working hard.
If you would like to help by knitting a square, please click here for more information.