children living in Mallorca Mallorca

The Milk of Human Kindness

Handmade blankets
Handmade baby blankets destined for a Mediterranea humanitarian aid centre in Mallorca.

Take one small business owner and lifelong knitter, Kay, a bunch of children including Giselle and Sophia, and Cynthia, another lifelong knitter and what have you got?

A lot of hand knitted blankets, that’s what.

Ever since Kay Halley took over the Universal Bookshop in Portals Nous she has been transforming her little locale into a community centre where people don’t just come to buy books. “I’ve been teaching the children to sew, knit and crochet. Some of them have got quite enterprising and even sell the things they make to their school friends. I know that there are a lot of handmade phone covers out there!” Kay set out to teach the basic skills required making knitted squares and they have mounted up to make several very cosy and good looking blankets.

But what could be done with these blankets? It’s still tough to accept it but in Majorca there are many people facing crippling poverty and hunger, in fact a great deal of residents living on “paradise island” don’t have a clue that there is any such problem here. Well, there is. And the situation is continually developing.  Families cannot afford to feed their children properly. Something as simple as milk has become a luxury item for some in Majorca and so a large number of children are not getting the amount of milk recommended by the World Health Organisation, which is half a litre a day, 15 litres a month. And why is milk significant (especially when many of us, me included, are constantly worrying about low fat, low carb diets)? Because it is a perfect food for growing children: it is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamins, helping with the growth of body tissues, teeth and bones. Mediterranea is a voluntary, privately funded humanitarian aid organisation which Dr Michael Stoma and his wife Victoria founded back in 1999. It is well known for its work in Africa, and lesser known for its vital and day to day support of children who are living right now and right here in Majorca.

A stocked store cupboard, for now.
A stocked store cupboard, for now.

Back in 2009 Mediterranea realised that there was a developing economic problem on the island and so earlier this year they launched their “ESTO ES LA LECHE” project (it’s a Spanish term which translated means “It’s the bees’ knees”). Up to then they had distributed about 91,000 litres of milk to families with children. But recently the demand has rapidly increased: now Mediterranea is supplying milk to more than a thousand children who are in need across 19 municipalities in Majorca. Following WHO guidelines that would be 15,000 litres a month: that is a lot of milk. The commitment to supply milk is draining resources from other projects that Mediterranea supports. However, what is quite perfect about milk here in Majorca is that we buy it in cartons which don’t need chilling, or any special handling, and we (by that I mean you and I) can all buy extra cartons of milk and donate them easily. It is literally a few extra pennies per litre. Mediterranea now has its own drop off centre, called El Nucleo, which is just outside of Portals Nous, on the way to Bendinat. It is completely possible to drop off your milk donations any weekday. Dr Stoma and his volunteers would like us to all get into the habit of doing that. Of course if you live in another area of the island then you can  get in touch with Gwyneth, one of the volunteers at Mediterranea and she will  guide you on how to get the milk to those in need.

Gwyneth and Kay preparing to deliver!
Gwyneth and Kay preparing to deliver!

I learn all of this as Kay, Gwyneth and I are on the road to one of these municipalities to deliver the blankets. It strikes me that the solutions that both women are giving to what have become known as “Fourth World Problems” are simple and achievable. I am not loaded but I could buy an extra half a dozen cartons of milk every month and donate them. Or I could make a regular standing order to the organisation and let them get on with the shopping. Gwyneth tells me that there are about 400 members who donate monthly, but to make all of the projects secure Mediterranea really needs something like 5000 members. It’s only 20€ a month.

We arrive at the depot where we will deliver the blankets and take a look inside the food cupboard. It’s hard to fathom that milk, rice and lentils are the edge between not eating that day and having a full tummy; that some people in Majorca are so poor that they can’t afford to eat. We get to meet some of the families who receive aid from Mediterranea. I’m told that the people using the depot are mixture of cultures from all over the place: Africa, South America as well as Spain and Eastern Europe. A common thread that seems to run through them is that many worked in the building industry before it collapsed back in 2008. The depot is a humble, warm, friendly place, but I’m glad I don’t have to visit as a client.

On the journey home we were all in a reflective mood. What do you get personally from helping with a project like this? Gwyneth summed it up: “it’s the satisfaction that I am doing something small but significant to improve the life of someone who could behomeless, unemployed or just unlucky. Mediterranea helps to feed children and their families so that they don’t need to turn to crime or prostitution or eating from rubbish bins. I love to help, I’m only supposed to be doing this one morning a week but I think about it all the time, I’m passionate about it”.

And for Kay and her brood of knitters at the Universal Bookshop it’s the same, they are doing something small but perfectly formed which reverberates out and touches many more people. “I’m been imagining the children all wrapped up, cosy warm in their new blankets,” said Kay with a huge, happy smile on her face, “and the children who come into my bookshop are benefitting too. They need to be aware of children who aren’t as fortunate as themselves. We all have a responsibility to each other”.

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©Vicki McLeod 2013

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