Hey, ya’ll! One of the things I love about being on Instagram is getting to meet all sorts of amazing and talented people. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Justine of Chubby Knots over on Instagram. At the time I started following her, she was preparing to leave on a trip to Lebanon. During that time she started making a few toys to pass out to the Syrian refugee children there and asked on her page if others would like to help out too. What happened next surprised all of us! So many willing people pitched in and by the time Justine left, she had over 150 toys, more than she could take over to Lebanon with her. It was truly amazing to watch!
Now Justine is back, but she’s taken on a whole new challenge! Justine has organized a project to get 500 toys to Syrian refugee children by this Christmas when she goes back to Lebanon. I knew right away that I wanted to get involved in this project! (Above are the toys I’ve made so far.) And I also knew that I wanted to help spread the word so that other people could get involved too. So I asked Justine if she would do an interview with me and she said, yes! Now I’m going to let Justine tell you in her own words all about this project and how you can get involved too (even if you don’t crochet!). And I pray that you will consider helping out as we need many busy hands to move this project forward.
Justine is the sweetest young lady and I feel so very blessed to have met her. She has such a big, compassionate heart and I’m happy to call her a sister in Christ. These answers she provided for my questions are very insightful and thought-provoking, actually, I would describe them as being amazing! And I hope you’ll be blessed by what she has to say too. The pictures below are from Justine’s first trip to Lebanon and her first toy drive.
1) First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in crochet.
My name is Justine Shapiro, I’m 27 and live in Sydney, Australia. I’m a graphic designer who’s busy retraining to be a primary school teacher, I love to run long distances and most of all I love to crochet. I actually first started crocheting during the many years that I spent in and out of hospital due to anorexia nervosa. My mum and grandma taught me the basics and I mostly just crocheted blankets, you know, trebling round and round and round. Crocheting really helped me to be still and deal with my anxiety. I didn’t actually get into amigurumi until April last year, when I was working as a graphic designer but really just not enjoying the work. Amigurumi very quickly became my creative outlet.
2) Tell us a little bit about your first trip to Lebanon and how you got involved in the first place?
My first trip to Lebanon changed my life. I struggle to find words to describe the experience because it was just so incredibly overwhelming. I am a long distance runner, and when this guy, Carlos from my parent’s church told me about a marathon in Lebanon to raise money for Syrian refugees I couldn’t refuse. The situation in Syria has been on my heart for a long time, I’d been looking for ways to actively help or play a part and until October last year was unable to find the right avenue. Carlos worked for Open Doors Australia, an organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians all over the world, in addition to helping displaced people. So I began to volunteer for Open Doors and eventually committed to the Lebanon trip. The event that I was involved in is called a Muskathlon, and is run by a Dutch organization called The Fourth Musketeer (4M). They hold endurance events in volatile areas, to raise money and awareness for persecuted people. The Muskathlon in Lebanon involved spending time in refugee camps, both talking to the Syrian people and playing with the children. This was the most eye-opening and life changing part of the trip. I feel like the way that the media portrays the situation in Syria is just so dehumanizing, and not only have the Syrian people lost their homes and their livelihoods, but they have also lost their identities. Just sitting in their tents and hearing their stories opened my eyes to the importance of giving them their voices back, of allowing them one of the most important human rights of all -the right to a voice and the right to an identity.
3) What gave you the idea to start making toys for the children?
In addition to a heavy running training load, a key component of our Lebanon Muskathlon trip was to fundraise $10, 000 for Syrian refugees. I had been discussing ways to fundraise with my team leader and had mentioned that I ran a small crochet toy business called Chubby Knots. I knew that I couldn’t raise that much money through my little handmade business, but suddenly it came to me that I could donate toys. While money can help displaced people with their vital daily survival needs, a handmade toy to a refugee child can provide love and comfort. Toys are so often donated to displaced children, but usually, they’re toys that have been produced cheaply and largely in sweatshops, which I believe defeats the entire purpose. I wanted each child that received a toy to know that someone had taken time out of their own day to create something special just for them. The displaced children of Syria have become so forgotten, often shunned and ignored. I wanted them to know that there are still people in this world that love them, and most importantly want to help them, care for them and show compassion towards them.
4) How successful was your first toy drive and were there a lot of people involved?
In the last toy drive, we had around 40 women involved, from Canada, America, Switzerland, Latvia, Australia and New Zealand. We generated 165 toys – I actually had to leave the toys that my mum, grandma and I made behind because I didn’t have space in my suitcase! 130 kids received a handmade toy on May 14, in a school run by a church in one of the refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley.
5) How did your first trip to Lebanon impact you personally?
It has changed my life, and outlook on life drastically. I can’t get the children’s face out of my head, I just can’t leave it behind. My heart has never really left Lebanon. It was incredibly challenging to come home to my comfortable, easy life in Sydney, knowing the beautiful little faces that I’d left behind. All of the problems that I face in my day to day life now seem so insignificant as I think back to the tents that the Syrian people are forced to live, as I think about the fact that many of them fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back with little to no hope of returning home. I can no longer live in ignorant bliss of their situation – I want to help in absolutely any capacity that I can. Where I was once studying education in order to become a teacher in a Sydney school, I am now studying education so that I can go overseas and teach in refugee camps.
Education is so key for displaced children, it gives them hope for a future and is something that so many of them are missing out on.
6) So now you’re back and you’ve taken on the task of getting 500 toys to Syrian refugee children by Christmas! Could you tell us what gave you the idea to do this?
Honestly – this idea was just put in my heart by God. I came home from Lebanon and became quite depressed, I just had no idea what to do with my life on the other side of such an experience. I knew I needed to do something, but I just didn’t know what. As the weeks went by, more of the makers who had previously been involved began to ask me if they could continue to donate toys, and that’s when a lot of amazing things began to fall into place.
7) How many people are now involved? And how close are you to reaching your goal?
Until I have launched the Chubby Knots rebrand later this month (yes, Chubby Knots is changing its name!) and the website is up, I won’t know the exact reach of this campaign. At this stage, I would hazard a guess that 150 women are currently involved, and somewhere between 150 and 200 toys have been completed. Which is honestly just mind blowing to me. The amount of love that so many people in this world have for the displaced children of Syria warms my heart and has honestly taught me to never give up on humanity because there are still so many people who care and whose eyes aren’t blinded by prejudice and irrational fear.
8) So I know you’ve picked specific patterns for this project for people to work from. Could you tell us why you’ve chosen these patterns and the significance of each design?
Each of the patterns created for this campaign has been very intentional. Bears are to be made for babies and are symbolic of protection, love, and security. Lions are for the boys and they are symbolic of bravery and courage. Many of these boys have lost father figures and take the role of man of the household at incredibly young ages, and are honestly some of the most incredibly resilient and brave children I’ve ever met. Unicorns are for the girls and are symbolic of individuality, inner beauty, and creativity.
9) For you personally, what is your favorite thing about this project and on the flip side, what is the hardest thing about it?
For me, there are so many favorite things about this project. Just the fact that we have managed to build a small army of makers dedicated to showing love to Syrian children is incredible. I love that in the face of the discrimination, prejudice, and hatred that is so rife in this world – there are still people who have hearts to love and serve others. I love seeing the amazing work that each maker has put into their toys and the way that this little community has paved the way for new friendships. The hardest part about this project is all of the behind the scenes work that is currently going in to establish Chubby Knots as a not-for-profit organization. Developing the website, dealing with all of the legalities and logistics has been incredibly difficult, especially coupled with university.
But every day I am learning to hand it all over to God. For me, this project is about honoring Him in all that I do, and showing love and compassion even when it hurts, just like Jesus did. Just seeing the big smiles on those children’s faces as we handed out the toys in May was enough to help me to bear any amount of stress or pressure that this campaign may impose on my life.
10) Tell us how we can get involved in this project!
On my Instagram page, in my bio, there is a link to an eBook with all of the details for becoming involved in this campaign. Download it and have a read. We also have a Facebook group “Chubby Knots – #toysforsyrianrefugeechildren” where all of the makers involved can connect with each other and help each other out. The process is pretty simple – crochet as many toys as you can, ship them over to me in Sydney and I will then be taking them back over to the Middle East at the end of this year. Aside from just getting involved in making – I highly encourage everyone to get involved in the amazing community that has developed. Post your photos to our #5reasonsfor500 and #toysforsyrianrefugeechildren hashtags, get involved in our Facebook group and just enjoy the amazing new friendships that are beginning to blossom!
11) If someone doesn’t crochet but would still love to get involved, is there any way for them to do that?
Over the next few months, there will hopefully be opportunities to donate money, which will go directly to helping Syrian refugees, we’re in the process of making that happen. Until then, if you don’t crochet but would still like to help – I suggest donating yarn to makers in your area that are making toys for the kids, or chipping in to help them cover the shipping costs!
12) Where else can we find you online?
I hope you all enjoyed getting to know more about Justine and her amazing project! Be sure and follow Justine’s Instagram or join her Facebook group if you’d like to keep updated with the progress and also be notified about the new website! (I’m so excited to see what Justine has in store!)
Thanks for reading, and I hope we’ll see lots of you joining in! I think it’s so neat how we can use our love of crocheting to bless and bring joy to others, don’t you?
You can download the patterns HERE. And if you make something be sure and share your projects using the hashtag #ToysForSyrianRefugeeChildren.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ – Mathew 25:40
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