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"Mother Bear Project Gives Aid to Young Rape Victims"
Minneapolis Star Tribune
March 17, 2003
By Kay Miller, Staff Writer

Amy Berman hopes that a small deed – multiplied by many hands – can chip away at the face of evil.

Berman, 39, of Minnetonka, was enraged by a story in the January issue of Marie Claire magazine describing the rape of thousands of infants and girls in South Africa – the youngest was a 2-month old named Ntombi.

“I thought, ‘What can I do, what can I do?’”

The article mentioned that teddy bears, dolls, games and books were being delivered to the rape victims through the Child Protection Unit in Durban, South Africa. But there was a need for more. Berman remembered the teddy bears that her mother had knit for own children, using a World War II-era pattern.

Anna and Zach Berman had loved those bears until they were threadbare. And the bears were lightweight enough to be sent en masse to South Africa. After a bit of digging, Berman’s mother found the pattern.

“I'm not a big knitter,” Berman said, “So before I set my sights on making these bears, I had to make sure I could do it.”

She made here first bear from washable brown yarn. She added a jaunt scarf and red felt heart, then embroidered eyes and a smile on its face. She signed her first name to a postal tag – a la Paddington Bear – and tied it to her bear’s wrist. Total cost: $1 and six hours of time.

Berman told other Minnetonka mothers about the rapes. And the bears. All wanted to help. Over the past month Berman, a stay-at-home mother who has long been interested in issues affection women and children aha pass out 60 copes of the bear patterns. Some of the women couldn’t knit. No problem. Berman said. She invited them to her house for weekly lessons and knitting bees.

Grandmothers, Girl Scouts, even an outside convent of nuns have joined the project. “At least 50 people are knitting these bears, “ Berman said. “ My mom, who’s 70, and her water aerobics group are knitting them. I probably have taught a dozen people to knit. Last week I had 20 women at my house. It’s just crazy. Others have dropped by when they got stuck.”

Some women figured all they could do was cut out hearts or punch heart holes in the tags. But when they discovered that casting on and casting off was as hard as it gets, they learned to knit.
The women can hardly wait to get through the day’s chores to work on their bears, she said.

“These are people like myself who see this as a real doable project that can have and impact,” Berman said.

It’s easy. It’s inexpensive. It doesn’t have to consume one’s entire day. And it’s direct: From an American mother’s hands to a South African child’s arms.

Zach told his mother that he was proud of her for doing this. He called her Mother Bear. That’s what she decided to call the women’s campaign: The Mother Bear Project.

It just keeps growing,” Berman said. “On Friday there were 43 bears sitting in my house. The week before there were 20. They’re doubling, it seems, by the week.” Berman did a test run on March 3, mailing five bears to the Child Protection Unit in Durban. She’s waiting to make sure they arrive before sending more.

“I read in another article that 60 baby rapes are taking place every day in South Africa. So there will never be enough bears, which breaks my heart.” Berman is not an expert on South Africa – just someone who read about a problem and was moved to act.

Nor will teddy bears stop the evil of childe rape. The root causes are too pernicious: poverty, alcohol abuse, unemployment, overcrowded living conditions, remnants of apartheid and the shamanistic belief that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, she said.

“But a teddy bear represents a form of comfort to children who have nothing,” Berman said. “We’re hoping it can make a difference not only for the children who probably feel a lot of hopelessness, but also for parents to know that around the world someone cares about them and their child.”

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