Sewing seniors give a touch of Canadian warmth to East African newborns


There are several seniors from Kelowna, B.C. who know a thing or two about toques.

In fact, a group of these women from Kelowna’s Seventh-day Adventist Church have made scads of them for A Better World Canada. Since 2008, they’ve been involved with a “toque project” for newborns in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

They send off handmade knitted hats for little ones in rural areas, including the Maasai Mara region of southwestern Kenya and medical clinics in Rwanda and Tanzania. More than 1,150 toques have been sent.

New mothers in the Masai region receive a toque when they have their babies vaccinated at an ABW sponsored clinic.


A mother from the Maasai tribe in southwest Kenya receives a handmade toque for her baby in September.


ABW co-founder Eric Rajah said these toques make a difference for new moms and their babies because the conditions can be cold. “It is handmade from Canada so it is a very special gift,” Rajah said.

June Burton, 83, and Jean Yuros, 81, are pleased to be a part of this popular effort supporting new moms and their babies more than 14,000 kilometres away. Both women started helping out after Rajah learned that 200 pregnant women were in refugee camps during a Kenyan political uprising in late 2007 to early 2008. Yuros, aunt to Eric’s wife Candi, then learned the newborns were wearing small caps to keep warm. ABW began assembling baby kits, including a toque in each one. From that point on, the “toque project” was born in Kelowna.


ABW co-founder Eric Rajah presents handmade toques for babies during a trip to Kericho, Kenya in September. Some of the toques presented are made from a Kelowna, B.C. group. 


Besides Yuros and Burton, Olga Matijew and Maria Teschinsky have played pivotal roles as well. Burton praised Matijew for all the work she has done late in life. At 95, she no longer knits due to health issues. “Olga would come to quilting (gathering on Wednesdays) and she would have maybe a dozen toques with her,” said Burton.

Burton estimates it takes about three hours to knit one of these hats that come in various colours, designs, and materials. Sometimes the yarn is donated.

She’s been a knitter “off and on” all her life.

“I just knit when the TV is on,” said Burton, who’s married and a grandmother of three. Teschinsky is great at making pom-poms for the top of her toques, Burton added.

The toque project is a real labour of love for Burton. When she knits, she imagines how she’s improving the baby’s health.

“The toque is given when the child is inoculated or vaccinated against disease.”

Yuros ensures the knitted caps are collected and sent to Lacombe.


From (left to right) Jean Yuros, Olga Matijew and June Burton have been key volunteers of a toque project for A Better World Canada. Photo by Beth Odiyar.


“These women can pretty well knit in their sleep and they don’t need a pattern,” said Yuros, who is married with two children. “I can knit but I have to look at what I’m doing, count my rows… I’m on the slow side. I have many other projects on the go, so the others can knit.”

One of the many projects she helps with includes cleaning stuffed toys that are also sent to Kenya with A Better World.

Occasionally the toques are distributed within the Kelowna area.

Burton was a Seventh-day Adventist missionary with her husband in East Asia from 1976 to 1990. She remembers providing clothes for less-fortunate children over there, but had little contact with newborns there.

The women are happy they can make a difference.

“It’s nice to see the little ones with a piece of clothing on them and to know you contributed to it,” said Yuros.


A mother receives a homemade hat for her baby from Canada as an ABW team meets at Tulwap Primary School in Kericho, Kenya in September.


Burton has also made dresses for orphans, too.

“Anytime you can do something for someone else, it’s well worth the time,” Burton added. “We’d encourage any ladies to do what they can to help.”