Mass. woman helps comfort Ugandan orphans

Posted Aug. 14, 2011, at 7:21 p.m.

PLAINVILLE, Mass. — With an estimated 2.4 million orphans in Uganda, many of whose parents are victims of the AIDS epidemic that continues to rage there, small comforts can come in a soft package.

That’s what prompted Plainville resident Carol Brink to pick up the knitting needles.

“I just sort of stumbled onto it,” Brink said of her finding the website for the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School for which she is knitting “comfort dolls.”

The dolls, about five inches in height, are knitted or crocheted designs stuffed with polyfill.

Within the past two months, Brink’s knitted about 20 of the dolls which sport knit caps stitched within the design developed by a volunteer on staff with the project, or, based on Brink’s own creative alteration, crinkled hair for female dolls.

It takes her about three hours in the evening while watching television to complete a doll.

The dolls are decked out in sweater designs in colorful stripes of yellow, greens, purples and blues. Brink said she will be mailing the dolls soon to Michigan, the headquarters in the United States for fundraising for the school, which will then distribute them in a Ugandan community where Twesigye Jackson Kaguri opened a school for orphans in 2003.

Kaguri, who lives in Michigan, but who was born in Uganda, penned a book about the challenges he faced in building a school and the lives of children and the poverty-stricken, AIDS ravaged community titled “The Price of Stones.”

He was born in Nyakagyezi, in southwestern Uganda, graduated from a college in the capital, Kampala, and then moved to the United States where he got a job and was married, according to his book.

He visited the village with his wife in 2001 and was sought out by grandmothers who pleaded for help in raising their grandchildren left orphaned by AIDS.

He also had a brother and sister and her baby who died of AIDS.

The couple used the $5,000 they had intended as a down payment on a home to go toward building a free school for the poorest orphans in the village. Kaguri also helped to secure grants to help build bathrooms and other features in the community. He’s since started a second school, Kutamba AIDS Orphans School, a farm and a library open to local residents.

Tashnica Torok, executive assistant for the project in Michigan, said the request for the “comfort dolls” came about two years ago.

“So many of our students had lost their parents to AIDS and were staying with their grandmothers who would have between 7 and 15 children living with them, or there were child-led homes,” Torok said. A volunteer came up with the idea for the knit dolls “and now volunteers around the world are making them” to add a little comfort to young lives, she said.

Torok estimated that 100 dolls were received in just that week.

She said that because of the popularity of the dolls, the project may soon start a new initiative for people to knit sweaters for the children, but that the dolls which still arrive would not go to waste.

“With 2.4 million AIDS orphans, I don’t think it would be hard to find an orphanage to donate the comfort dolls to if we get too many,” Torok said.

Brink herself is considering continuing the project, perhaps as a way to comfort some of the children she has seen at a hospital in Haiti where she’s gone twice through a church mission to help out.

She’s also teaching others, including women at the assisted living facility where her mother, a former knitter, resides, how to make the sock-like comforts.

“I really enjoy making them,” Brink said, giving a doll awaiting delivery a hug.

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