A group of women in KwaZulu-Natal has shown that traditional craft can provide sustainable income and empower people infected with and affected by HIV/Aids.
The Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust is at the heart of eThekwini municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, a province that has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world with over 40% of adults with the virus. The centre provides home-based care services, and testing and treatment for those with TB and HIV/Aids.
With a staff of just five nurses and the assistance of community members, the centre has also started a crafting project, Woza Moya, to help those in the advanced stages of infection find a sustainable way to generate income.
Started in 2004 with a group of 20 women, the Woza Moya crafting project encourages women and men in the Hillcrest community to get tested, so they can start treatment early.
‘When women come in, the nursing and counselling departments look at their needs and, if the situation is dire, they are encouraged to join one of the clinic’s programmes,’ says craft coordinator Paula Thomson. These include a horticulture feeding scheme for six months and other income-generating programmes, accessing a grant or finding employment with the assistance of the staff at the clinic.
About 10% of the women have no skills. ‘They’ve been depending on their husbands and when they die the women are left alone without any income. Most of these women are in a desperate state, some with no food or shelter,’ she says.
Women who want to join the crafting project work with the team to discover their skills and use those skills to make a product that can generate a sustainable income. ‘Because we had a large group to sustain we had to find a little product that was easy for everyone to make and could generate a lot of orders,’ says Thomson.
That is how the little traveller dolls were born. The dolls were called little travellers because they travel the world telling the story of the bead artists who make them and to ‘ignite international hope amongst those infected and affected by the virus’, says Thomson.
‘Many of these women have been written off because they are HIV positive and therefore have no value. We’re saying that’s not true. Our crafters are really passionate about what they do. We really believe in craft and have proven that it can be sustainable.’
At first, the craft project was just two buckets and a small board at the centre’s reception, but now the group operates from a garage. The project has created employment for 160 people. The dolls are growing in popularity. Customers always come back for more, and this has enabled the project to employ more women.
From just one packet of beads costing R12, women are able to make 50 dolls. Between 5 000 and 10 000 dolls are sold a month, and each woman earns about R400 a week. The dolls are sold at flea markets, conferences and other outlets for between R16 and R25 each. Among the project’s biggest customers was the eThekwini Metro, which bought 20 000 dolls ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
The project has made a big impact in the beaders’ lives, as some of them have been able to access services such as electricity and water and purchase essentials.
Buselaphi Gwala (50) describes the project as ‘empowering’, while Esther Sibisi, a mother of four who also cares for her grandchildren, has managed to build a house with the R400 she earns from weekly sales and has also been able to buy a fridge. ‘I know I can accomplish anything in my house by making them,’ she says.
Over the years the project has also sparked international interest, with orders from as far as Germany, Canada, Korea and Sweden. However, like most projects, Woza Moya faces its fair share of challenges. Sometimes the women are too sick to work, and they have also suffered from the global downturn, which has decreased the quantity of orders.
Looking ahead, the project hopes to continue to provide income for the beneficiaries, employ more people and grow their client base.