Gisela Foster has felt a connection to Africa long before her involvement with Mother Bear Project.
"Since I was 18, Nelson Mandela has been my hero," Foster said.
Born in Germany, Foster began knitting at about eight or nine, and her mother would encourage her creativity by giving her leftover yarn and bits of material to make dolls.
"I was brought up during the war in Germany," she said.
"I had a stuffed rabbit that my mother gave to a screaming child during a night of bombing. Perhaps that is why I am now slightly obsessed with knitting bears. I don't know what overcame me, but I felt like I needed to give these children something."
In 1958, Foster became part of a group that played chess with South African students in Germany, and her interest in Africa and Nelson Mandela began to grow.
"I had a lot of friends from South Africa and heard their stories. We played chess and had long discussions
in coffee shops, and we would talk about politics and often about Nelson Mandela."
Years later, when Foster ran across the Mother Bear Project booth at Stitches West knitting expo in February of 2008, she immediately took notice.
"When I saw the Mother Bear booth, I first saw the word 'Africa'," she said. "I knew I had to get involved."
With well over 200 bears already under her belt, Foster has contributed to MBP in a tremendous way.
"I get terribly involved in things," she said. "Sometimes my family looks at me funny."
Foster knits everywhere she goes - at home or on her bus ride (on which she can knit exactly four bear heads).
She has even devised a way to knit while she takes her daily walks, by pinning a plastic bag of yarn to her sweatshirt.
She also finds inspiration for her bears everywhere. The brilliant colors of a juicy mango she was eating inspired a "mango salad" group of bears, and her favorite movie,
The Sound of Music, inspired a von Trapp family of bears.
"Amy said, 'I'll leave it up to you to try lederhosen,' and sure enough I went home and made little dirndls," Foster said.
She also has collected many photos of her bears in Africa, with the children who were comforted by them gripping them close.
"They are a big inspiration. I put them on my wall and in albums. They are really an inspiration when it is wet outside and there are wars and tsunamis on the news. To have something to give to a child that is their own when they have nothing else -- to me that is a perfect idea."
Foster's message to any knitters considering creating their first bear: "One bear is all it takes to really help. You can make one child happy with one bear. But once you start, you can't stop!"