In the Umm Workshop of the Islamic Welfare Association, Hoda Khalayli told workers and volunteers to speed up their knitting.
The association plans to donate the sweaters they are making to orphans and students of public schools in the southern city of Sidon.
“I was orphaned early in my life and I know what it feels like to be cold and freezing,” Khalayli said.
Ghassan Hankir, media and public relations officer for the project, explained that ISWA launched the Winter Sweater initiative 24 years ago, but that the campaign is particularly important during Lebanon’s current economic situation. “It is a challenge for us, considering the crisis in the country,” Hankir said.
He added that, this year, 2,000 sweaters will be distributed in 10 public schools for students from grades 1 to 4.
Diana Bitar was busy ironing sweaters, ready for distribution. She said that she had noticed how people in need are affected by the winter weather and wanted to do something about it.
The Winter Sweater campaign is an entirely local initiative, operated from the Umm Workshop, where 85 employees – mostly mothers, widows and orphans from ISWA – knit and sew.
The garments are mainly distributed to Lebanese students and some Palestinians registered at schools in Sidon.
“We were afraid at the beginning of the project that we wouldn’t have enough donations this year, however we were surprised by the positive response by people we contacted in person and via social media,” Hankir said. He went on to explain that the initiative consults with school principals, in order to know who to give its sweaters to.
“Naturally we give to those who are most in need. We obviously can’t provide one for every single student” he said.
He added that the principals told them their students are often more in need of uniforms than winter sweaters, because a large number of families cannot afford the cost of special school clothing.
“We also secured hundreds of school uniforms for students this year,” Hankir said.
With each sweater costing LL10,000 ($6.66) to produce, the project has totaled LL20 million this year. Since the initiative’s launch, 50,000 sweaters have been given out.
Winter sweaters were distributed to students at Islah Intermediate Public Mixed School. Its principal, Mohammad al-Bouz, said that he hopes the project manages to reach students of all public schools.
Fatima, a student in the third grade said she and her three sisters all received sweaters.
“We need them. Our father sells vegetables from a cart and is unable to provide a lot for us,” she said.