"It’s Friday morning, and I’m on my way to a CAI craft session hosted by a traditional Anglican church. To the eye of the outsider, it might appear to be a sleepy one, but my experience of Friday morning craft sessions proves this to be far from the truth. If I arrive feeling a little sleepy myself (my usual state on a Friday morning), I certainly don’t stay that way for long. Within the first few minutes of my arrival, one of the volunteers is urging us to set up the crafts and get going. Even before all the participants arrive, everyone is already busy at work, cutting and sewing and glittering. (If you haven’t already picked up on this, glitter is a key feature of Craft Aid International’s work!)
A morning of sewing, chatting, and tea and biscuits (tea-breaks are another important ingredient of CAI community life!) might have the air of the mundane about it and the women who volunteer on Friday mornings might seem like ordinary ladies of the older generation, but every week that I come, I am impressed by this extraordinary group of women. As I sit listening to their chatterings, I can’t help thinking that there are so many stories here just waiting to be told. The wannabe novelist in me is itching to use all this raw material!
Anyway, I won’t be writing a novel quite yet, but I thought I’d just share a tiny snippet of some of the conversations I’ve had with these fun, sparky, determined ladies, who always seem to bubble with enthusiasm. They are an important part of Craft Aid’s story; they are both a blessing to us and a reminder of the blessing that Craft Aid International is to so many people. These Friday morning craft sessions not only benefit the participants with disabilities, but they have had a surprising impact on the volunteers involved, and the whole of the church.
One volunteer tells me that she always looks forward to Friday mornings. “It’s so friendly. Everyone’s welcome and there’s always laughter. I’ve always done craft, but I’m not good at motivating myself at home. Here I’m given something to do, so I don’t have to think about it.” As she describes some of the beautiful and impressive-sounding creations that she has made at home in the past, I get the feeling that I’m talking to a talented artist. The simple joy that she takes in helping others with sewing and glittering is humbling. Craft Aid is so blessed to have skilled, artistic people serving as part of the team. However, even those who aren’t naturally creative enjoy getting stuck in. “I’m not crafty to be honest, I was just going to make the tea”, admits one lady, “but I’ve been involved with the craft for two years now.” Another volunteer tells me how she misses the sessions over the summer.
These fun Friday mornings led some of the volunteers to embark on an adventure on the other side of the world (read Susie’s blog-posts from April for more info). Five of the ladies, all in their sixties and seventies, visited Craft Aid’s new project in Peru, where they trained the employees with disabilities to make different craft products. There were many keen supporters from the church who didn’t go on the trip, who nevertheless helped with the fundraising, waved goodbye to the volunteers early in the morning and supported them all the way. Those who went really enjoyed their time in Peru. “It was fun, emotional and exhausting. We had to have a get-up-and go attitude.” Another lady explained how it changed her perspective, “When I came back, things that mattered before I went didn’t matter any more. I realise what’s important now.”
The vicar of the church says that the craft sessions, as well as the Peru trip, have helped the church become more dynamic and have been an important part of their journey as a congregation. The work of CAI has had a “profound effect. It has given us a another way of being a more outward-looking community.”
I will end my little storytime here, but I am sure that there are many more fascinating tales to tell. I remember one volunteer telling us that when she was a child, she and other children were encouraged to collect conkers for the war effort. Little did she know at the time that these conkers were used to manufacture explosives. Whilst CAI clearly doesn’t want to be explosive in this kind of way, I can’t help thinking that this story is a good metaphor for the lives of those involved with CAI. Just like a little conker, an ordinary Friday morning can lead to much bigger things. And I don’t just mean exciting trips to Peru, but everything that these volunteers enable to happen. These women are all part of the explosive effect of CAI, which is changing lives around the world, one precious person at a time."