More than a thousand jumpers knitted by members of the Heath & Reach Women’s Institute have found an unlikely new home in the south east Asian nation of Laos.
Peter Banwell, of Heath Road, Leighton Buzzard, became a trustee of the Lao Educational Opportunities Trust, or LEOT, after visiting the country on his travels in 2008.
Upon his return, he gave a talk to the WI about the charity’s work and they asked if their team of knitters could help contribute to the cause.
Peter said: “They said they had a knitting group and often sent clothes out to other places but never got any feedback on where they ended up.
“So I told them to send some with me and I’ll make sure they get a home because although Laos is hot during the daytime, it’s colder at night.
“The next time I went they gave me about 50 jumpers which I took out. The time after that, they sent me with 100!
“I would guess to date, since we got into the mass production, they have probably knitted something like 1,500 jumpers and lots of pens, paper and other clothes have gone out too.”
WI members Dorothy Gearing and Carol King have taken particularly enthusiastically to producing the jumpers – breaking into three figures each on their own.
Peter said: “I’ve presented them with a picture book [of the children wearing the jumpers] for their achievements.
“Dorothy must have knitted about 400 to 500 jumpers in total now. I thought I had outwitted them by making extra trips this year but not in the slightest!”
Having initially set up to sponsor young people in Laos through further education, in 2010 LEOT decided to open and run their own school – the English Learning Centre – in the city of Luang Prabang.
Peter explained: “Today the school has almost 150 students in addition to around 30 we sponsor at other institutions.
“The students come from extremely poor families, mostly of farmers. Their parents’ wage on average is $1.50 a day.
“Most of them are studying and working. We are now working on a new project to build a dormitory next to the school so they have a place to come and stay.”