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#AwesomeElderly: Parow Senior Centre Ladies Knit Bears for a Good Cause

Ladies of the Parow Senior Centre, a service centre of Badisa, donated approximately 60 “Lukas bears” – knitted teddy bears in aid of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH) Breatheasy program – during the Centre’s fundraising tea in March. The event was held in memory of Lukas van der Walt, a three-year-old boy who died of a rare disease last year.

Lukas was born with an extremely rare form of muscular dystrophy – a degenerative genetic disorder that destroys muscle tissue over time. Until Lukas’s death, he was the only recorded case in South Africa. As part of the Breatheasy programme, the knitted teddy bears form an integral part of the family as well as friends’ training, awareness and introduction to tracheostomies.

“In the darkest times, I learned that no star can be seen in daylight.”

Lize van der Walt

Lukas’ parents, Tjaart and Lize van der Walt, struggled to conceive for eight years. At birth, Lukas could move his arms and legs, but over time lost this movement as well. Lukas’ breathing had to be supported by means of a tracheostomy and ventilator.

Lize, a hairdresser in Durbanville, explains that Lukas only experienced physical disability, and that he could clearly indicate when he was enjoying himself and when he wasn’t. Lukas loved being outdoors and doing activities with his parents. They took him with them when they went jogging, cycling and while walking the dog. This was made possible due to a special stroller that could support his support apparatus.

The Power of Unity

Shortly before Lukas’s first birthday, Lize and Tjaart found it difficult to both work and had to rely on family and the community for support. For this reason, they set up The Little Lighthouse Foundation to raise funds to make Lukas’ care possible, as well as to raise awareness of the rare disease.

Teddy bears let Lukas’ Legacy Live on

During May 2022, Lize posted a request for knitted teddy bears on The Little Lighthouse Foundation’s Facebook page, and the Parow Senior Centre immediately responded to her request. The centre’s knitting group, led by Marina Klüsmann, immediately added the teddy bears to their list of projects, gathered wool, spread the word among all the knitting members and friends, and before long the first batch of teddies was handed over to Sister Jane from the RCWMCH.

With little Lukas’s passing on 25 April 2023, the centre decided to celebrate his life and to keep his name alive by naming the teddies “Lukas bears” from now on. This year is the third year that Parow Senior Centre has supported the Breatheasy program.

Knitting Gives Hope

In the past three years, the centre has distributed more than 2000 knitted toys to children in hospitals over Christmas, hundreds of toys and sweaters to children in Badisa foster care programs, and hundreds of scarves, hats, bed socks and toys to adults and children on farms.

The donations of knitted items by ladies of the Parow Senior Centre not only show their talent and generosity towards their neighbours, but also bring comfort, hope and joy to those who receive them.