What Can One Person Do?: Backpacks for Refugee Kids at Christmas


Today’s story of one person getting the ball rolling in support of refugees and people seeking asylum is a real crowd-pleaser and one with which you could get involved this year!

Read on to see how Alison Reynolds’ simple idea made such an impact in the Brisbane community.

alison with car


My name is Alison and I am the founder of the “Backpack for Refugee Kids at Christmas” project. Basically, it is an annual drive (in its second year) to collect backpacks filled with a mixture of items for refugee children living in the Brisbane area. These backpacks are donated by the wonderfully generous members of our Facebook group and then distributed to refugee and asylum-seeking children of all ages.

backpack by rachel

Backpack donated by Rachel for a teen boy

completed back pack by JacBackpack donated by Jac for a young girl

My support and advocacy work for refugees and people seeking asylum started a few years ago now. For me, it was inconceivable to stand back and do nothing while so many people were having to flee their homes and countries simply to stay alive.

The idea for the backpack project actually came from another project I was involved in which supported children experiencing homelessness (Adopt a Backpack), and run by a wonderful lady named Heather Ranger supporting Micah Projects. Heather’s work inspired me to start something very similar but with a focus on refugee children. 

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Thanks to the support of the community we were not only able to provide backpacks to many children seeking asylum in Brisbane but also the children detained on Nauru.


I think a huge benefit of this project is that people are able to do something to support this cause in a hugely practical way but one that also says, “we care”. Another overarching benefit of these small projects is that they build awareness and help to educate people who previously may not have been exposed to anything other than fear-mongering and propaganda in relation to refugees.

backpacks in carbackpacks in house 2

There are so many benefits that come from a project like this. Personally, I was delighted to have made a small difference to the lives of these children but I was completely overwhelmed and immensely touched by the generosity of the community that we built around this initiative.

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In the past I found myself in the situation of wanting to help with the issue of people seeking asylum, but wasn’t sure how, but a quick google or facebook search will provide you with a list of refugee support groups you can join. There are opportunities to contribute in many different ways depending on the time you have available. And of course, please join our backpack group!

In short, get involved and help us keep up the good fight!

Thank you so much Alison for sharing your story and the Backpack project.  If you are in Brisbane and would like to join in on this project this year, check out the Facebook group for the project (where you can also see some photos of last year’s project and the happy recipients of some of the backpacks!).

If you are not from Brisbane, perhaps YOU could kickstart a similar project in your local area.  Start by contacting service providers who work with people seeking asylum in your area and see if they would like to be involved.  Too easy!

If you know of an individual or group that would like to be featured in our What Can One Person Do? series, please ask them to get in touch via the Teddy Bears Without Borders Facebook page. 

If you would like to contribute to any of Teddy Bears Without Borders current projects, just click here for more information.

What Can One Person Do?: Silver Chef Work Welcome Program


One of the biggest stumbling blocks to beginning a new life for people who have come to a new country as a refugee or person seeking asylum is the ability to gain work or have their previous work history and qualifications acknowledged in their new home.  Wendy McCormick noticed this problem in her local area and decided to do something about it.

Here is Wendy’s story about implementing a work experience program for people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds in her workplace, the Silver Chef Group.

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“Silver Chef Group is a Bcorp and actively strives to help people live their dreams; these people include our customers, suppliers, staff and our community.  Our business Silver Chef Group approved a program where we would offer a 12 week paid work experience program to disadvantaged groups within our community.  The program was born out of our employee suggestion program, in which I made the suggestion that we should use our business and roles we have to better the local community.   

For our launch we focused on the refugee community in Brisbane.   This group of people struggle greatly to get a job – one of the main reasons is the lack of Australian work experience.  We took a role in the business, on this occasion a cleaning role in our warehousing facility in Wacol, and opened it up to be available for a 12 week work experience placement.

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This program is now a reoccurring initiative and part of our business’ wider annual objectives.

As a whole everyone was supportive.  Initially, there was some fear and uncertainty mainly based off not knowing or understanding what a refugee is and how they would integrate into our business.  We worked through MDA (Multicultural Development Australia) and they helped us to place a suitable candidate with some Australian experience and a fair command of English.  We also provided all the relevant parties with ‘Working with Refugees’ training to help them understand the challenges these people have faced in their journey to Australia and some of the culture clashes that can happen.

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Having successfully implemented a Refugee Work Experience Program at my work this is the feedback I have received from the Manager who is hosting our very first refugee:

“This experience has definitely changed my point of view on refugees. it has made me realise how important it is to educate others and help where we can.

I can now see why you are so passionate about this and you have my full support moving forward. if anyone gives you any grief on the subject of refugees just send them my way and I’ll set them straight.

I do have to also thank you for not only making a change in [the work experience candidate’s] life but also mine. You should be very proud of yourself and you have lead the way, now I will stand beside you.”

If you are thinking of doing something to support refugees and asylum seekers, you don’t need to make a massive impact or take on an enormous project.  Just take the time to impact one person at a time.  Although it can appear small and insignificant, it makes a difference to that person’s life and that of their family. 

Thank you so much to Wendy McCormick from the Silver Chef Group for sharing your story about the Work Welcome Program that is sharing skills, making connections and supporting refugees and asylum seekers in such a successful way!

If you know of an individual or group that would like to be featured in our What Can One Person Do? series, please ask them to get in touch via the Teddy Bears Without Borders Facebook page. 

If you would like to contribute to any of Teddy Bears Without Borders current projects, just click here for more information.


Tree, Glorious Tree! Knitfest Safe Harbour Project Assembled!

tree up 4 sign

For a 360 degree view of our finished piece, click here for a video!

tree up 10

After a solid fortnight of sorting, sewing and embellishing all the strips, stars and pompoms for our Knitfest Safe Harbour tree, the day finally came to make the magic happen! On the 7th of July – a delightfully rainy and cold Friday – the Teddy Bears Without Borders and Mums 4 Refugees tree for the Maleny Knitfest tree cosy competition was adorned with yarny goodness.tree up 3

We did manage to get an hour or so of rain-free weather and with the help of a zillion zip ties, the piece started to come together quickly. I did, in the end, need to actually climb the tree, something I haven’t done in about thirty years, in order to fit the lighthouse section and apart from a mildly embarrassing slip on exiting the tree, made it back down intree up 2 one piece.Tree up 1

While we were putting the tree up, many passers-by offered positive comments and asked about the meaning behind the piece and a few even assured me that they would look up our Facebook page to find out more.



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While our tree was only up in Maleny for two days, as per the competition requirements, the exciting news is that our piece is now available to go ON TOUR!

We are now offering our piece to any organisation or school who would like to host our piece for a week at a time so that we can spread our desire for safe harbour for refugees and asylum seekers even further.

To this end, Laura Diete, who contributed a number of strips and stars to the project, has taken possession of the piece and will use it to dress a tree in Killarney as part of the annual Jumpers and Jazz in July festival that is based in Warwick, Qld.

If you know any organisation or school that would like to host our Safe Harbour piece for a few days to a week, we would love to hear from you! All the organisation or school would need for hosting the piece is a reasonably large tree or fence and a willingness to share the message of safe harbour for refugees and asylum seekers.

While we’re not sure what the next steps for our Knitfest piece will turn out to be – although we hope it will travel far and wide – Teddy Bears Without Borders would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to all who contributed knitted or crocheted pieces, pompoms or shared the project around to interested parties.




Project Updates: June 2017

We’re halfway through 2017 so it’s time to check in and see how our current projects are faring!

Operation Hope Teddy Project

Our participation in this hugely successful project came to an end in June as Erica Henley and her fellow AdventistHelp colleagues jetted off to Iraq to provide some much needed support for the people there.  We received an initial update from Erica on her arrival in Erbil:

“Hi from Erbil

Just to let you know that 2 bags of teddies have arrived at my home while I have been here in Iraq. Many thanks to the lovely knitters …my son will bring them to Erbil on 6 June.

Attached are a few photos of teddies we have handed out in two hospitals in Erbil where children from Mosul have been transferred for surgery.
I spent some time with a young ten year old girl with burns to 70% of her body and left a teddy with her. We are hoping to get her medicvac-ed to the US.

The remainder of the teddies will be kept for the new AdventistHelp field hospital still under construction.

Thank you so much for your support.”

We received a second update from Erica once some of the teddies were distributed:

“Remember we took a large bag of hand knitted teddy bears to the Hospital in Erbil to be distributed amongst the children? Badrxan Sherwani the managing director of Raparin hospital of pedeatrics has just sent me these photos of the children receiving the teddy bears.

With thanks to our knitters in Australia – Margaret Brown and friends, Cathy Kuipersand the Indooroopilly uniting church knitting group, Bronwyn DunnKerrie Broadbent,Bronwyn PetrieKathie StewartMarjorie Fairbairn, and the national group Teddy Bears without Borders. LeanneAinslie BosRobert Bos

Some of our contributors also provided teddies for a second shipment that would head off with Erica’s son Michael to a hospital in Greece that served refugees there.

second shipment

“Michael Henley dispatched to fassifern train station for part 1 of his overseas adventure. Thanks for the pink case you left in Erbil, Cathy Kuipers …..it is headed back there with 15 kg of medical supplies and teddy bears.”

We received this final update from Erica also:

erica update last

Overall, Teddy Bears Without Borders supporters provided over 100 handmade teddies to contribute to this project.

The Operation Hope Teddy Project has now been completed!  Thank you so much to all of you who supported this project by making teddies or sharing the project and many thanks to Erica for getting in touch and asking us to support her work.

Standby Teddy Project

Our Standby Trauma Teddy Project is ongoing and aims to provide handmade trauma teddies to UnitingCare’s Standby 24hr service that provides support to those bereaved by suicide.  So far Teddy Bears Without Borders supporters have provided more than 50 teddies for this project and Linda Fielding, our contact at Standby, is so appreciative of your work.  She even bought us all a bunch of roses to say thanks – you can rest assured that I enjoyed them on your behalf!!


On my last visit to Linda, she also provided me with a bag of yarn offcuts for the use of our crafters:

yarn donation

If you’d be interested in receiving some yarn for charity crafting, comment below and I’ll get to making up some packs to send out.

The Standby Project is ongoing, so if you would like to help out or know someone who would, check out the details for the project here.

Knitfest Yarnbombing Project in Support of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The date for Knitfest is looming ever closer and we’ve been working away like hard-working things to get our massive tree decoration based around the theme of “Safe Harbour” ready in time!


We received lots of your contributions up until the first week of June and our Pom-A-Thon event held on the 10th of June 2017 at Southbank in Brisbane gave our harbour light tally a boost.

With the event only three weeks away I am now busily sewing and crocheting together all your contributions as well as finishing off the lighthouse centrepiece.

Once the main pieces are stitched together I will start adding some embellishments including waves, boats and a stitched panel explaining our piece, using some of the smaller strips that were contributed.  Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to our Knitfest project – this has been an enormous undertaking, but your contributions will result in a beautiful and thought-provoking piece that will hopefully raise some awareness about the struggles that refugees and asylum seekers face.

If you are interested in contributing to any of our current projects, just click here.

If you know of any group or organisation that could use our support, please let us know in the comments or contact us via our Facebook page.


What Can One Person Do?: The Unknown Project Australia


If you’ve ever had an out-of-the-box idea for a way to assist refugees and asylum seekers in your local community but were worried the idea was too small or obscure to work, then Olivia and Rory’s story is one you need to hear.

We are super excited to welcome The Unknown Project Australia to our blog today to find out more about their simple and creative project to raise funds for school supplies for refugees and asylum seekers in Brisbane.

Unknown Project logo

The Unknown Project is a Brisbane based initiative aiming to facilitate cultural exchange through educational opportunities for kids from refugee backgrounds.

Inspired by the ‘lucky-dip’ second-hand books at Shakespeare & Co in Paris and the ‘blind date with a book’ concept, we wanted to bring this sweet idea to Brisbane readers. We cover selected and recommended second-hand books (and poems!) in brown paper, with only a few lines on the cover detailing the genre, plot and an ‘if you like this’ section. 

While we think this idea is cool on its own (we are both big book nerds), we think it has the power to make a real social difference.

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There’s just two of us in our little operation – Rory (19) and Olivia (20). We are best friends and both study Economics/Law at QUT, while we’re both working part-time at law firms. We have been known to call each other at 2am with wild and wonderful social enterprise/business ideas – and this just happened to be one of them!

We are passionate about educational opportunities for all, and want to facilitate, even in this small way, access to the incredible opportunities we were privileged to experience. We believe that integration into Australian culture is a two-way street, and want to encourage this inter-cultural exchange as we welcome new Australians.

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Our first pop-up was at Suitcase Rummage in the Brisbane CBD. We weren’t sure how it would be received, and were absolutely overwhelmed at the response. We sold all but two books and all of our poetry packs!

Suitecase 1

We couldn’t have asked for a better debut!

Rummage shot 2

With the proceeds, we have purchased school resources for The Romero Centre in Brisbane (we’ve just received our first shipment!). We have two types – a primary school pack, and secondary school pack and will be able to supply about 20 in this first round.

We’re currently sending out our first set of school packs, and then we’ll be organising the next pop-up, so check out our FacebookIn the future, we are hoping to establish and sponsor a homework club through the Romero Centre, to continue the initiative, and re-invest the beneficiaries back into the program.

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We are yet to purchase a book for our project, taking in generous donations from our partners. At this stage, we have had donations from Avid Reader and Riverbend bookshops, The Footpath Library, and many of our friends.

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(Don’t worry – if we find we can’t use them in our project, we’ll be happy to pass them on to The Footpath Library).

The rhetoric and debate surrounding the arrival of refugees in Australia has been divisive and charged over the years. It’s easy to become complacent or apathetic to when mainland Australia is so (literally!) removed from confronting offshore detention and refugee settlement. There are an abundance of incredible initiatives all around Australia working tirelessly for refugee rights. Not everyone has the capacity to give a voice on Q&A or volunteer their time, but even a donation goes a long way.

That’s why we are so excited by the prospects that social enterprise offers – Startups like Words With Heart (a Brisbane stationery initiative facilitating education for women in developing nations – check them out!) deliver an incredible product and are fundamentally defined by their social cause.”

Inspired yet?  We certainly are!

Teddy Bears Without Borders would like to thank Olivia and Rory from The Unknown Project Australia for sharing their story with us.  You can find the project on Facebook here and on Instagram here.

If you know of an individual or group that would like to be featured in our What Can One Person Do? series, please ask them to get in touch via the Teddy Bears Without Borders Facebook page. 

If you would like to contribute to any of Teddy Bears Without Borders current projects, just click here for more information.



Knitfest Project Update: Piecing Things Together!

Our Knitfest Yarnbombing Project in support of refugees and asylum seekers is well under way, with crafters from all walks of life contributing to our piece.   Our finished piece will be an ode to those refugees and asylum seekers who have risked everything in coming across the sea to seek safety and will represent the safe harbour that we hope all these people will find.

presentation sisters yarn bombing kits

We’ve been sharing the project around, calling out for more helpers and Elizabeth Strakosch from Mums4Refugees even managed to recruit some Presentation Sisters to the cause!

As you can see, the piece representing the sea which will go around the main trunk of the tree, is coming along nicely, with lots of contributors including Colleen McHugh, Laura Diete and Nicki Clarke – thanks ladies!  We will still need more strips of blue though as the trunk is over two metres around and nearly a metre high!

We have also started receiving some gold, yellow, orange and white motifs which will adorn the top of our tree as harbour lights, shining a welcoming glow.  We’ll need a stack of these to make our piece stand out, and to that end, we’d love to invite you all along to our first ever get-together….the Teddies Without Borders/Mums 4 Refugees POMPOM-A-THON!

pompomathon event pic

This event is a final push to get all our bits and pieces finished before Knitfest in July. We will be at Riverside Green at Southbank Parklands in Brisbane on Saturday the 10th of June from 9am til noon making pompoms, working on motifs and generally having a good chat with all you like-minded folk.  Bring the kids along if you like as there is a playground right next to the green (as well as coffee!) and stay for the whole time or just a short time.  You can find out more about the event and register your interest on our Facebook page here.

The date also coincides with World Knit in Public Day just quietly. *wink*

If you can’t get to our Pom-A-Thon, we’d still love your help to complete this piece.  You can check out the project requirements here and keep in mind that all pieces will need to be received by post or drop-off by June 10th, 2017.



Bon Voyage! Operation Hope Teddies Heading to Iraq

The first phase of our involvement in the Operation Hope Teddy Project has come to a close with our teddies heading off to Iraq to cheer up some children in desperate need of a bit of joy.  I dropped off the Teddy Bears Without Borders contingent to Leanne Rogers last week and they will be added to the collection that the Operation Hope team has been putting together to take with them that includes warm hats and jumpers.

Leanne said….

“Meet some fabulous little friends made by Teddies Without Borders knitters in Brisbane. These cute friends are heading to Iraq with me to give to kids coming through the AdventistHelp emergency medical Unit in a refugee camp just outside of Mosul. ISIS banned all dolls and toys so these teddies will find friends very quickly. Thanks Erica for organising this project.”

knitfest teddies bon voyage

We ended up with about 90 teddies in this shipment and thank you to Renee Bratby, Belinda Young, Elizabeth McLeod, Pat Rudd and L. Grey who contributed teddies.

Thank you also to Erica Henley who originally reached out to Teddy Bears Without Borders to see if we would like to be involved.

Erica said…

“Thank you so much to the wonderful knitters of the teddies that are going to Iraq next week. They will be gifted to children that come as patients to a new field hospital 25kms east of Mosul. For some of these children, it will be their only furry friend. 6 Aussies have the privilege as volunteers at the hospital to hand out these gorgeous teddies. You have created a brighter future for these displaced children. Thank you.”

Erica and Leanne and all your team, THANK YOU for making a positive difference for refugee and asylum seeker children and those affected by war.

If you would like to contribute to this project there is still time!  Check out the project page for patterns and please note that all teddies will now need to be posted/dropped to:

Operation Hope Teddy Project

Erica Henley

47 Coal Point Road

Coal Point  NSW  2283

and all teddies must be received by May 19th, 2017.

If you are interested in crafting teddies but this project doesn’t fit your timeframe, check out our StandBy Teddy Project, which is ongoing.