Rafael J. Alcaide co-founder of Amoami
“Crochet is a therapeutic activity that helps healing”
When Rafael J. Alcaide landed in Madrid airport in March 2022, he met a group of Ukrainian women and children who had just arrived from their war-torn country. At that moment he knew he had to do something. This is how Amoami was born; an original project offering support and integration through the design of crocheted teddy bears.
What is the origin of the project?
Amoami is a unique way of helping people in Ukraine. We were very touched by the number of refugees arriving in Spain and other European countries and we wanted to help by creating something together. Not just by providing humanitarian aid but by giving them something more.
How did you come up with the idea of designing crocheted teddy bears?
We love handicrafts and we knew that in Ukraine the tradition of sewing, crocheting, and embroidery is embedded in cultural and artistic heritage. We wanted to create a symbol for the refugee community, a stuffed animal associated with resistance but not related to weapons and violence. This is how we created the art of amigurumi (crocheted stuffed animals) with a symbol that identifies with Ukraine. The crochet designer Rita Ruiz, made a pattern with clear Ukrainian inspiration. The typical Ukrainian embroidered shirt, called Vyshyvanka, was replicated in the embroidery of the scarf.
What is the purpose of the project?
The project is about helping women who have arrived in countries throughout Europe to integrate and have a purpose when they are away from home. Amoami gives meaning to the situation they find themselves in due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine. The main aim is to use something they are passionate about (sewing and crocheting) as a therapy and as a tool to create a community where they can forge friendships and share their experiences with other women in the same situation.
We hold crochet workshops almost every week in various Spanish and Swiss cities to knit the Amoami teddy bears.
“We want to make sense of the meaninglessness of war and be a symbol of resistance.”
How were the women affected psychologically when they first arrived?
When we first started in April-May 2022, there was some scepticism among the first group of women and also some fear of sharing information. After the second workshop, they realised that we were going to work hard together to turn Amoami into a symbol of resistance. They started to open up and integrate into the group. Today, many of them are friends and are part of an association which helps them find a purpose.
How is the communication? Was it easy for them to learn Spanish?
Some of the group had relatives in Spain and knew some Spanish. At the beginning, we needed help from translators but now most of them speak Spanish. Some also speak English, so communication is multilingual.
What benefits has Amoami brought to these women and their families?
Firstly, crochet is very therapeutic which helps with healing and also works as an aid to avoid negative thoughts and bad memories which they have lived through. Many still have family living in Ukraine
Secondly, Amoami is a community, a space where all women are welcome to participate. They are in a country they do not know. Their life, their friends, relatives… everything has changed, so it is very important to help them feel a sense of belonging. And the money from the sale of Amoami products goes toward expanding the project to more communities.
How has the project expanded in the first few months?
We started in Madrid, where we have a space to meet thanks to La Casa Encendida. Then, thanks to the interest created in groups of Ukrainian women in other cities, Amoami has spread to La Coruña, Lugo, Alicante, Málaga and Segovia. In the summer of 2022, with the help of Free Ukraine, we were able to meet more refugees in Switzerland and opened several groups in Basel, Bern, and Lausanne.
Because some women have returned to Ukraine, we are currently working on how to take Amoami there. We have also worked with illustrators and journalists on various projects, such as a documentary film.
The project focuses on heling Ukrainian women and their families displaced by war, have you considered collaborating with other causes?
Of course, Amoami has Ukraine and refugees at its heart, but we want to grow by creating happiness and giving purpose to different groups in vulnerable situations.
How can we collaborate?
In many different ways! First of all, the most important thing is to give one of the Amoami bears as a present for any special occasion, such as a birthday gift or birth celebration. They can be purchased through our Instagram, Facebook, or bdeb.es.
We are actively looking for retail outlets or online platforms in which to sell the bears. We also need people who can help us share the project in the media, co-ordinate social networks, website, etc. Anyone who would like to be part of the project in any way can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.