Featured Mother Bear: Merideth DePrisco Gaffney
If you ask Merideth DePrisco Gaffney about her involvement with Mother Bear Project, she'll tell you that the "only" thing she's done is to distribute over 600 bears to children in a South African village, taking a picture of each one.
Apparently the former Peace Corps volunteer has a gift for understatement.
Merideth and her husband volunteered in the Peace Corps' education program in South Africa from July 2011 to November 2013 following their retirement—Merideth after 33 years as a special education teacher and her husband following a career as an engineer for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. While in Africa, Merideth learned about the Mother Bear Project from fellow volunteers and looked into finding out if she could distribute bears to the children she taught in her village, Mmakau, in northeastern South Africa.
Before Merideth left the country, she and her husband found out first-hand what the gift of a bear can mean to a child.
"I was able to witness the sheer joy that the bears brought to each child," Merideth says. "That is about as good as it gets for a volunteer. I only wish everyone involved with our bears could have been there when my husband and I gave the bears to the children."
Merideth says that for most of the children, the bears were their first gift—or the first gift that hadn't previously belonged to someone else.
"For the first time they had something new and soft to cuddle, especially when going to sleep at night," she says.
The children weren't the only ones who were affected by the bears. "The teachers in our schools were overwhelmed by the dedication of all the people who make this project happen for so many children around the world," Merideth says. "One teacher said, 'You have no idea what these bears actually mean to the children. This is the first time so many of them have received a gift.' "
Now that the Gaffneys are back home in Coeur d'Alene, Merideth is working on spreading the word about Mother Bear Project by finding knitting and crocheting groups in her area so she can tell them about Mother Bear and encourage them to participate. A longtime quilter, she's also considering learning how to knit or crochet so she can join all the people who work to make more children happy.
Says Merideth, "The bears are a wonderful gift of love and comfort. I commend all the people who knit and crochet these bears of love and hope, along with all the other volunteers who make this project so successful."