A 93-year-old Greek grandmother’s scarves travel to children in need

Ioanna Matsouka, 93, arranges scarves in a plastic bag in her house in Athens, Greece, March 6, 2024. Matsouka has knit thousands of brightly coloured scarves for children in need, from Greece to Ukraine. REUTERS/Karolina Tagaris

By Karolina Tagaris

In her tiny Athens apartment, 93-year-old Ioanna Matsouka has knit thousands of brightly coloured scarves for children in need from Greece to Ukraine – and she has no plans to quit just yet.

“Until I die, I will be knitting,” Matsouka said. Her knitting needles clicked through her expert fingers, her nails painted red. “It brings me joy to share them.”

Since she took up knitting in the 1990s, Matsouka has easily made over 3,000 scarves, her daughters estimate.

In the hallway by the door, shopping bags filled with her latest creations await their new home. A knitted patchwork blanket is thrown over the sofa where she spends her days.

In the beginning, the scarves were gifted to friends. As stock grew, they were donated to children’s shelters across Greece. Then, through acquaintances, they reached children in Bosnia and Ukraine. The latest batch of 70 went to a refugee camp near Athens this winter, via the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

“The fact that we give them away gives her strength,” said her daughter Angeliki.

children in need
Ioanna Matsouka, 93, and her husband Kostas Matsoukas pose for a picture in their house in Athens, Greece, March 6, 2024. Matsouka has knit thousands of brightly coloured scarves for children in need, from Greece to Ukraine. REUTERS/Karolina Tagaris

She recounted drawings and mail her mother received over the years: “Thank you, be well, keep going. You gave joy to children, you gave joy to people… That’s her only reward: a letter, a few words.”

Matsouka knits one scarf a day, now with small imperfections. Her vision is impaired and she suffers from bouts of severe facial pain, a condition known as trigeminal neuralgia.

Angeliki says her mother is an example of resilience and optimism.

Matsouka wakes up every morning, drinks a glass of milk, puts on her pearl earrings and gets to work. She takes a break for lunch and a nap, then painstakingly knits into the night.

She may have even found the secret to a long life in it, she says.

“It’s the happiness I get from giving,” she said, sitting beside a big blue bag brimming with yarn.

—Reuters

Ioanna Matsouka, 93, knits scarves in her house in Athens, Greece, March 6, 2024. Matsouka has knit thousands of brightly coloured scarves for children in need, from Greece to Ukraine. REUTERS/Karolina Tagaris
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