British Columbia

Refugees hooked on crochet: how a B.C. woman is helping Syrians combat boredom as they bide time in Greece

A B.C. woman is helping Syrian refugees the best way she knows how: with crochet hooks and yarn. As it turns out, that's exactly what hundreds of them need.

Karen Kirk is keeping refugees in Greece supplied with yarn and crochet hooks

Kirk says every young girl she's met at the refugee camp enjoys crochet, as do many of the boys. (Karen Kirk)

Karen Kirk didn't expect her love of crochet to do much good when she started volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece, but it turns out the hobby is hugely popular among Syrian children.

"When I walk into camp in the morning with my little bag over the shoulder that they know is full of crochet hooks and yarn, I get mobbed," she laughed.

Kirk says every morning children in the camp show off their newest creations. 'My heart is just full and bursting.' (Karen Kirk)

Kirk lives in Cluculz Lake, 40 kilometres west of Prince George, but she's currently spending her days in the Kara Tepe camp in Greece.

She was encouraged to make the trip by her 24-year-old daughter.

"We were watching everything on television and I said to her, 'oh, man I've always wanted to volunteer or something like that but somehow life's always gotten in the way,'" she recalled.

A migrant woman carries her child after arriving at a rocky beach on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast to Lesbos October 11, 2015. (Fotis Plegas G/Reuters)

"And I'm not a doctor or a teacher and I don't think I'd be of any help ... and she said, 'well I'm going.'"

The pair made their fist visit to the Greek Island of Lesbos last year, working as independent volunteers to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have poured in seeking safety.

While their stories are dramatic, Kirk soon discovered the day to day reality of life as a refugee is often mundane.

"We discovered one of the huge problems ... was boredom," she said.

"They sit all day waiting to be called and take the ferry to Athens for their interview ... then they come back from Athens after their interview and they sit in the camp and they wait again and days and weeks go by ... so I said, 'OK, what can I do?'"

Women in the camp join Kirk in teaching children how to crochet. (Karen Kirk)

She noticed many people in camp, including young boys and girls, crochet. The cost of yarn and hooks, however, is beyond the budget of most of the people living in camp.

"I immediately zoomed off into the village to pick up some hooks for the little girls that I'd been playing with," Kirk recalled. 

"There's never four Euros left over for a crochet hook ... it's a luxury item."

When Kirk returned to B.C., she and her husband embarked on road trips that included stops at every thrift store they could find to pick up more supplies. 

Kirk arrived in Greece with 500 crochet hooks and two suitcases full of yarn. She continues to buy new supplies using her own money. (Karen Kirk)

By the time she was ready to return to Greece at the beginning of this month, she had collected over five hundred crochet hooks, two suitcases full of yarn and money from friends to purchase more supplies locally.

Now she spends a couple of hours every day sitting with children and adults engaged in the same hobby she's been doing since she was a little girl. 

"They show me a little purse or a little Barbie clothes or a little attempt at a hat," she said.

"My heart pounds. It's pretty simple. I don't do anything great, I just crochet. They have nothing."

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