Gijs the giraffe

Marijn Welten is the author of a series of children’s books about a friendly giraffe named Gijs. In 2017 she had the idea of creating real life crocheted Gijs's and donating them to children on Lesvos, through MOTG. Why? “Because all children need a hug, to be able to sleep, to go on an adventure and to have good conversations” says Marijn.  We loved Marijn’s idea, but knew it would only be fair if there was enough for a big group of children on one of our sites. Perseverance and the power of collaboration are the moral of this story - Marijn ended up making 540 gijs’s. We distributed them at our Ramadan party, to the joy of many children. How did Marijn make 540 hand crocheted stuffed animals? Read more to find out.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea of making Gijses came about?
I’ve been drawing Gijs for about 10 years. In December (2018) I went to Stephanie (MOTG) with the idea of asking people just to make stuffed animals for children on Lesvos- whatever they wanted to make. But shesaid no, it has to be Gijs because a giraffe is always happy, it's not aggressive, it's lovely and you can hug him by his neck. My youngest son had two little giraffes when he was young and he always held him during his sleep with this hands by the neck. I wanted something like that for children on Lesvos. 
You ended up making 540 Gijses - how did you do it, who helped you?
I put a post on facebook, it was shared over 42,000 times. They were all women who made them, aged between 12 to 75, even 80 years old. Some of them came together in groups. There was one group who would meet every Wednesday morning in this crochet group - they made 25 altogether. Another elderly lady, made 15 on her own and would send a few with her son to my address every so often. It’s amazing. I couldn’t have done it without these people, I really feel that way. I just had this idea, I yelled it out to the outside world and the outside world picked it up. I’m really thankful about that.  

People felt really personally attached to the project in some ways. A woman wrote to me about losing her daughter. She had a grandson from her named Otto and his symbol animal was a Giraffe and his godfather is called Gijs, as soon as she read about my project she called me to find out more and to take part. 

Your friend Yvonne uploaded a pattern to your website for crocheting the Gijses, but you asked people to make each one different - why is that?
The original Gijs is yellow with brown spots. I wanted every child to recognise their own giraffe in the pile. There are a few which are the same as the pattern, but the rest they have made them different - we have a pink Gijs, we have a unicorn, with clothes on, one has a blanket, one has a little back pack, some have flowers, we even have rainbow Gijs. It’s really great. The children can say to each other ‘Look this is mine, oh look you’ve got this one' to each other. They don’t get mixed up. 
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do a grass roots project like this?
You have to go for it - Just do it.  For me when I started, I didn’t really know how it would go, I just started. I think I took a dive in deep water, it was just like ok I’m going to start and we’ll see how it ends, I don’t know…we’ll see. If you set your mind to it, it will work.

We distributed the Gijs's to children from Kara Tepe at the end of June.

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