The Power of Knitting

South Jersey native Jaime Yeretzian has discovered a way to empower female refugees in Thailand to move beyond international aid, become self-supporting and keep their families together. She teaches them her passion: knitting.

The seeds of Yeretzian’s concept were sown in December 2009, when, shortly after receiving a teaching certificate in English as a foreign language, she moved to Mae Sot, Thailand. When her teaching contract was completed, Yeretzian decided her skills could be put to good use at Blessed Home Orphanage and Compassion International—two organizations that provide education and provisions to refugee camps and small villages near Burma’s border.

It was in the camps that Yeretzian—a childhood friend of mine and fellow Shawnee High School alumna from Burlington County—introduced knitting to the women of Karen. Many of these women have escaped racial cleansing and political oppression. Yeretzian soon realized the group could knit hats, which she believed would be a great seller in the United States and an innovative way to raise money.

Last October, Yeretzian took the success of her initiative to the next level and founded AmFreeKaren.org. The site features 11 different hats in various colors that can be purchased for $25. Each features a tag highlighting the knitter and the persecution she experienced in Burma. With each order, Yeretzian donates a hat to Burma’s Karen state for those displaced while taking a stand against the government. In December, Yeretzian sent her first shipment of winter hats to the United States, raising more than $700.

“By teaching Karen women a trade like knitting, they enjoy the freedoms of working from home for the betterment of their family,” Yeretzian says. “I’m here to give them a voice and to make sure the world knows they are still alive.”

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