When Kohl Crecelius taught his friends Stewart Ramsey and Travis Hartanov how to crochet almost 20 years ago, little did he realize the trio would end up turning a hobby into a way to change people’s lives half a world away.
As teens, the winter and outdoor sports enthusiasts from Spokane, Washington loved being able to make their own outerwear, perfecting the beanie in particular. They created such a group of crocheters while in high school that a local news reporter nicknamed them the Krochet Kids. Following graduation from high school, the three friends went their separate ways, still teaching new friends how to crochet. But it would be a summer trip administering aid in Uganda that would have Stewart contacting Kohl and Travis with an idea for how they could reach out and make a difference in the lives of the women left behind in the war-torn and economically devastated northern region of that African nation.
Knowing that learning to crochet would not be enough to affect the women they hoped to reach, Kohl, Stewart and Travis devised a program that would allow the women to use crocheting as a means to provide for their family, as well as save money toward investing in their future and grow in community leadership skills.
With an organization and production model in place with local professional staff, a location selected in the city of Gulu in northern Uganda, and as much yarn as they could afford, Krochet Kids International (KKI) began its first program with 10 participants.
Krochet Kids International provides Ugandan women with jobs and a mentorship program so they can pursue their professional dreams after they graduate from the KKI program. | Photo: KKI Facebook
The program runs from three to five years. Participants learn production and how to read the charts of the particular items they’re given to work on during a given week. To give each woman ownership and pride in the clothing items they’re making, a hand-signed label is affixed to each piece before it is packaged and shipped to KKI’s distribution center in California. KKI’s website features a page where you can look up the crocheter of your KKI apparel, and learn more about who she is and what she plans on doing after she graduates from the program.
Beyond the clothing production, participants have mentors in various areas, including personal and small business finance, as well as career counseling. KKI’s goal is for each participant to find employment she’s passionate about and provide a lasting income for her family.
Some women, like Akello Welsy Olara, use the money they can save from earning a fair wage at KKI to continue their education. Olara was one of the many young girls whose family was murdered in front of her. She was enslaved by one of the armies terrorizing the region. Once she was free of her captors, she was considered worthless in her culture and had nothing but a grim future ahead of her. Upon completing the program at Krochet Kids International, she’s gone on to become a social worker in her community, working with many of the women and children who share a similar history as her own.
Others invest their money in starting their own business. A decade ago, Akot Beatrice was raising her children on what little she could scrape together doing odd jobs. Poverty and hunger was their daily reality. She was told about KKI and encouraged to apply to the program. Akot completed training in agribusiness and graduated from the program as a project mentor, which helped her practice the leadership and practical communication skills she’d learned in classes provided by KKI.
“It changed my life in many ways,” she said. “My children never had clothes, and they ate very poorly. Not only did I receive a job, but I learned who I was as a person and what it means to be a leader. Today I have a bicycle, goats, motorbikes, shelters and a farm with many crops of produce.”
Akot, and many women like her, have gone from being hungry daily to providing food to others as a means to support her family thanks to the skills they learned during their time at KKI.
Today Krochet Kids International has grown twentyfold and opened a second location in Arequipa, Peru, where “The World’s Greatest Beanie” is made of the region’s famous alpaca wool . As the season of giving and cold weather commences a sure place to start shopping for gifts is at places that truly make a difference in a person’s life half a world away. You can see and buy KKI’s products here.
Andrea Ruth is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @AndreaNRuth.