Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 22, 2013

Pleasant Hill Ramblings: B4Books provides literacy head start

By Jean Clark
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Gaby Hein, a resident of Fletcher House of Assisted Living in the Uplands Village, has fingers flying with knitting needles at all times other than eating, sleeping or praying. Her delicate sweaters, blankets, caps and other items are much in demand in this area. She knits for B4 Books of Neighbors Together, the Avalon Center, Good Samaritans and the Wharton Craft Group.

The Neighbors Together B4 Books program enhances the early literacy experiences of babies. The program serves women in Cumberland County from pregnancy to when the baby is 18 months old. The parents receive early literacy instruction and developmental toys to nurture their infants’ development. The B4 Books Council provides diapers, toys, tote bags, and baby quilts. The hand knit sweaters and blankets knit by Hein are the frosting on the cake with their beautiful patterns and handiwork. For more information call Karen at 787-1610.

Hein provides sweaters for different ages to give families that are clients of Avalon Center a special lift when they are sheltered. Last year, Good Samaritans asked for 63 mittens for Christmas presents. Hein was able to provide these after fulfilling her baby and children products for the Wharton Craft Boutique held in November.

Although Hein has been knitting and crocheting since age five or six when she was taught by her mother in France, her skills are not just for personal pleasure. In France, she taught home sciences before her marriage to the late Charles Hein of the United States, which occurred after their paths overlapped at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossex near Geneva, Switzerland. Hein is French, although she was actually born in Egypt and moved with her French mother to France when she was four years old. The couple spent 40 years in Africa in Togo, Kenya and Zaire, serving first with the Evangelical and Reformed Board of International Missions, then the United Church Board for World Ministries. Her responsibilities spanned adult education, village development and theological education. He was a pastor, professor and administrator in education.

In Togo, Hein taught adults to read developing her own materials by drawing pictures and labeling them in French, the official language of Togo. In Kenya, the women were downtrodden and depressed after years of war with few skills to make their way in life. Hein began to teach them to knit at first just so they could make clothes for their families. She again had to develop her own teaching aids using numbers and pictures on the patterns so the illiterate women could follow the directions. Their language was Swahili. In 15 years, Hein estimates that she helped 150 or more women to become independent. They made school uniforms, clothes, blankets, shawls and even knitted cotton underwear. Her church provided the yarn and a place to sell their products. They also produced crèches with figures made from cornhusks.

The sister of the first Kenyan president learned of her work and provided a sewing machine to help the women. Again, Hein had to use pictures and numbers with the help of a translator to show them how to use the machine. Blankets that used to take three days now only took three hours to make. A local banker learned of their work and lent them money for materials, which they faithfully paid back from their earnings.

This gallant lady is at present visiting her daughter in Paris for two months and then will return to continue her mission of support for the families in this country.