In Romania Women’s Day on 8 March is celebrated much like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day in other parts fo the world. But in the town of Viscri they have special reason to celebrate their female folk, thanks to their sock-knitting skills, as Intrepid’s Linda Ulonska explains…
“This UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, lying in the heartland of Romania, has been home to the Saxon people for hundreds of years. The Saxons originated from Luxemburg and were originally invited to Viscri by Roman rulers, in order to enhance agriculture and to protect the town against invasion. They built a church, which was fortified against attack, and surrounded it with three walls for protection against the Tartars and the Turks. The village itself was destroyed a number of times, however the church was never conquered.
Originally about 400 Saxons lived in this town, however after the revolution in 1989 most of the Saxon inhabitants chose to return to Germany, leaving their houses unoccupied. This village was very poor, but in 1999 something happened which changed the community forever. Women began to knit socks!
Women knitted socks from old unraveled clothing and gave them to Maria and Harald, two Germans who have been living in the village for some years, in exchange for food: bread, sugar and oil. The socks were accepted and since that time, more and more socks have been knitted, until the house was no longer big enough to store so many of these items! The family sold some of the socks to friends, who in-turn sold them to others, and the money began to accumulate.
That was the start of the ‘genuine sheep-wool socks from Viscri’, a project that now involves about 125 women knitting 10,000 pairs of socks a year, as well as manufacturing gloves, sweaters, caps, headbands, baby blankets, nappies and felt slippers. From these garments they raise approximately 45,000 Euros per year and the money goes directly back into the community.
Harald saw a chance to open a spinning mill and now more jobs with social security have been created in the village. Annette, another German member of the community, succeeded in hiring a nurse to take care of the sick, as there is no public transport in or out of the village for the residents to go to a doctor. The nurse visits the older generation and advises young mothers with their babies twice a week.
From the sock profits, a car was purchased, which can be booked by the locals, with a driver! The women pay in socks and this system of bartering and bonuses has been a success due to fact that cash is very short in the village.
A school group has been started, with two female teachers who run four separate classes. A homework club is supervised by members of the village, and a ‘special school’ for children who have never been to a proper school before or who were excluded from the main school was also started for some of the weaker students from the community.
All of this is due to socks!
And now Intrepid is also offering to lend a helping hand! Our Eastern Europe Explorer trip that travels through Romania visits Viscri and offers an amazing optional dinner with a local family. This not only supports the family, but the whole village benefits as the bread is baked within the community and the vegetables come from the village patch. On top of this, our travellers have the opportunity to see the socks, the mill and of course meet the people who started the ball rolling! The church is still standing, and a museum has just opened, showing people how the Saxons used to live. It is an wonderful chance to be able to interact with the locals and hopefully support a community in need!
Just don’t forget, if you are thinking of visiting Romania, leave a few pairs of socks at home and sock-up in Viscri!”
* photo by Tina Gerets