Harpur, Tom. "The great healing power of little teddy bears." Toronto Star. 20 June 1999.

June 20, 1999 @ 12:00 AM

Some time I'd like to write a series about ordinary people who are making a difference to the world's hurt in an extraordinary way. They have no time for cursing the darkness; they're focused on kindling more light. Most of them are unknown beyond their own neighbourhoods.

We came across such a person recently. She lives not far from us in the small town of Meaford, Ontario, Canada, on Georgian Bay. Daphne King is 71, was born in Suffolk, East Anglia, and still has her British accent to prove it. She has lived in Canada for 14 years.

While she is geographically remote from all of the world's most agonized trouble spots -- where there are wars, natural disasters, plagues and endless suffering -- she has found a way to bring love and healing to those most vulnerable, to the many thousands of babies and toddlers in hospitals and orphanages.

When you think about them or see photos of starving, traumatized little ones in orphanages around the globe, it can be overwhelming. But King and those who are almost daily joining her project, have found a way to help. It's practical, simple and, most of all, it works.

"Love is a teddy bear," would be a fitting title for her undertaking because teddy bears are what it's all about. A couple of years ago, King's friend Val Thomas was visiting the United Kingdom when she learned about the project called Teddies For Tragedies based in England, for nearly 15 years. So far, more than 70,000 bears have been knitted. The latest request received is for 100,000 toy bears to be sent to orphanages for the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.

On her return, Thomas told King about this and asked if she might be able to make a few of the hand-knitted, 12-inch-high teddies herself. King liked the idea and the work so much she made 50 of them. They went to an orphanage in Beirut, Lebanon, in late 1998.

That was the beginning. Since then, she and other volunteers have sent 200 teddies to Romanian orphanages and another 140 to Lebanon. Six more local women have offered to assist her in the past few weeks and the list of requests for more of the soft, cuddly toy animals still outpaces the supply. For example, King has just been asked to make and ship 100 more for an orphanage in Brazil and the same to Lebanon again.

The point of it all is that in some near-miraculous way, the simple fact of being able to have something so comforting, cuddly and soft as a teddy bear always with you, something of your own to keep and cherish, has proven to hasten healing in year-old to 3- to 4-year old children. The doctors involved have observed and documented this phenomenon which is particularly effective with very young orphans. "Better than medicine for many," was how one Sudanese doctor summed it up.

Some may wonder why it's not possible to buy manufactured teddy bears and raise the money to send them to where they're most needed. King told me that Canada Customs and its equivalent in the receiving countries insist that the bears must be hand-knitted. Commercial toys would come up against all kinds of export/import restrictions, King says.

There is no cost to the recipients of the teddy bears or to the children's caregivers. So far, all supplies have been donated and people have also given money for postage or freight abroad. More knitters are needed as well as more wool, threads, cloth patches and sponsors for further shipping. So, even if you don't knit you can still get involved.

There's no quota or deadlines for our volunteers," says King. "Those who do it love it. It makes such a difference to the children in need".

She says she's "not really religious." But, in my view, she's doing more religion than a great many who publicly and loudly profess their faith. Her story is an inspiration to all. She has teddy bear patterns and some wool available.