Sometimes, the difference between surviving and perishing is a hand-knit hat or scarf.

Give Children a Choice, a globally-focused 501(c)3 non-profit organization, has a mission of building and filling schools throughout the most impoverished regions of Asia. As education is key to eradicate poverty, the organization has built over three dozen schools since 2002 and will continue to do so as long as there is a need. The schools are located predominantly in both Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang Province, and these most adversely-affected areas are in mountainous regions with harsh climates.

Barbara Shimoda, its director in Laos, has taken the mission a step further by providing handmade soaps to the families of these regions in order to encourage proper hygiene. The organization has also championed an initiative to deliver four million vitamin tablets for facilitation of better health, including prenatal vitamins for expectant mothers. The tablets arrived in freight cartons from the United States, and the residents of the region were waiting on the ready as willing recipients.

According to UNICEF’S Report – “The State of the World’s Children 2006 – Excluded and Invisible,” 40% of children in Laos are moderately to severely underweight. Also, a whopping 86% of the populations in the country’s rural areas lack adequate sanitation facilities. Shimoda’s soaps have been a step in the right direction in turning the latter statistic around.

Shimoda’s latest challenge in her ongoing mission to better the lives of the people in these regions is to donate hand-knit and hand-crocheted hats and scarves to the residents. “The children up there have very little clothing,” says Shimoda. “Some wear the same outfit year after year until it does not fit anymore, dirty and tattered to bits. No shoes. Many run around naked, especially the young toddlers. Families are large and very poor and cannot afford to buy any clothes for them. It is generational poverty. When you look into their eyes, it tells the story of how these people never knew what it was like to have a good full meal, to have nice warm clothes to wear and a nice warm bed to sleep with downy covers. Every time we go up there, we bring donated items to these people.”

Her initial challenge was to collect 300 hats and scarves, however, with a greater-than-projected demand, the new challenge is to collect 500 items for the children in Laos. Her group, Global HeartFelt Hatters, was born from this need and idea, and it reaches knitters and crocheters from the United States to Australia and to the recipient country. Their group on facebook has over 100 members from around the world, and knitters from around the world use the page to share what they are making to send to the region.

As materials are also scarce in the region, but Shimoda has a network of crafters she can call upon in the area, Global HeartFelt Hatters is also accepting donations of higher-end acrylics and wool yarns so the knitters of the area can make the hats and scarves themselves. With a goal of collecting 500 hats and scarves by November, the group still is looking to collect over 200 items for the residents in the regions of northern Laos, where temperatures dip below freezing.

While there are no hard-and-fast guidelines, it is suggested that the hats be made of washable wool or any other warm and washable fiber. They can be any size, with concentrated need for preschool-aged children. Knitters and crocheters may be creative with color, whimsical design, or add-ons such as mouse ears. The focus is keeping the children warm as they are getting educated and paving a way out of their impoverished lives.

For more information on Give Children a Choice, or to make a monetary donation, their website provides a detailed description of their mission and history and accepts electronically-based donations for donors’ convenience. The recruit flier (as seen in the slideshow) may be copied for distribution and shared to help spread the word of the organization’s mission.

Knitters and crocheters: gather up your needles and hooks, recruit your friends, and do what can be done to get this organization to their goal of 500 knitted hats and scarves. When it comes to poverty, every point on the food-clothing-shelter triangle can be sharpened with a donation. Hand-made items give the inhabitants of this area a chance to keep warm while being reminded that the rest of the world is on notice that they need our help.