Grandmothers Crafting a Brighter Future for their Families
By: Jenn Johnson
All over South Africa there is a recent phenomenon that families affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty are being lovingly held together and supported by grandmothers, who take in their grandchildren after their own children have passed away from the virus. Often these women find themselves as the sole bread winners in their household. In addition to going back to work to support the family, these noble women are typically also responsible for nursing ailing or dying family members and raising orphaned grandchildren on their own. Research shows that these grandmothers suffer from a lack of information and struggle to offer financial support within the new parental role they find themselves in.
Grandmothers Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA), is a caring, welcoming centre that offers supportive programming to families in the Khayelitsha community in which it is found. To help supplement the income of aging women who support their families, GAPA grandmothers make handicraft items to sell at the centre as well as within the township community.
The income generation project at the GAPA centre is run by Ms Florence Hlangadala to help women support their family’s livelihood in the new breadwinner position they have taken on. Ms Hlangadala teaches women imperative skills to begin their small crafting business. At the centre, beadwork, crochet and knitted items, bags, cushions and other articles made by the grandmothers are displayed and sold. Through the relationship that African Impact has built with GAPA through volunteering over the past year, The Happy Africa Foundation (THAF) has partnered with GAPA empowering women to assemble beaded bracelets that are in turn sold to volunteers in Cape Town. A portion from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to the grandmother that crafted it to support her family’s livelihood and a remaining portion of the proceeds supports THAF programming as well. With each bracelet that is purchased, not only do volunteers receive a fashionable bracelet to wear and bring back as souvenirs, but they are also supporting valuable programming at GAPA and THAF.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with some of the key figures in the GAPA income generation project about their experiences and the personal impact of crafting as a small business in their lives. Their responses are extraordinary and speak volumes to the important roles that these women have in the community. The following are stories of heroically strong and determined women, who are making and selling handicraft items to piece together a brighter future for the grandchildren one bead or stitch at a time.
Betty, is a cooking staff member at GAPA who also spends her evenings and weekends crafting beaded necklaces and other items to sell at the GAPA centre to earn an extra income for her family. Since the money comes in on a mostly regular basis, she is able to fund her daily needs with the sales during the month before receiving her regular salary at the end of the month. Betty explains that she had a difficult life as a young woman. She had children at a young age and made ginger beer to sell on street to make some extra money but it wasn’t nearly enough. Life was very difficult but she had no way of escaping the cycle of poverty. In recent years she has joined the team at GAPA and has learned new skills of beading and knitting through GAPA’s income generation project which has enabled her to make an extra income during her spare time to support not only herself but her grandchildren as well. Betty is now confident in her skills and is self-assured that she will be able to continue her personal crafting business even if the income generation project itself were to end in the future.
Betty explains that her grandchildren often ask her, “granny why are you working so hard?”, “to give you a life that I never had” she responds. Betty also takes the opportunity to teach her grandchildren new crafting skills that she has learned and saves as much money as possible to empower her grandchildren to receive an education that she never had access to as a young woman. In a soft but determined voice, she tells me “I never want my grandkids to experience what I had to live through. I had no money, no schooling. I do everything I can to give them a better life”.
Noxolo was living at her brother’s house when she was recently diagnosed with HIV. The family struggled to put food on the table regularly and she had no means of earning an income. With the added need for medicine as well, it was then she knew that something had to be done. Through the GAPA income generation project she learned important crafting skills and started selling bracelets, earrings and beaded animals at the GAPA centre. As the income began to increase, she was able to move out and find a home for herself and her grandchildren. Sadly during that time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. Noxolo used the money to become independent and “stand on her own two feet” she explains. When she was diagnosed with the disease, she felt weak and intimidated but with the additional support of income generation projects she became a strong, independent woman who is not only able to support herself despite illness but is also working to pay for her grandchildren’s education and daily needs. She is changing the course of her family’s future one bead at a time.
Thandi agrees that her story is much like that of all of the grandmothers in the income generation project. The income she earns from selling beaded jewelry and knitted items not only helps her become independent but most importantly is used to support her grandchildren’s every day needs as well as their education. Above that, Thandi also comments that when the women come together to craft it takes their stress away, keeps their fingers busy and builds a sense of community within the group.
Thandi explains that she hears a lot of people ask, “Where will my next meal come from?” “Right here,” she states as she points to the beads on the table. 10 Rand for a loaf of bread, 30 Rand for electricity, it all comes from the crafts she sells, she states, “Instead of waiting for something to happen, we make it happen."
These three women at GAPA are a small representation of a generation of women across the country who work diligently to support themselves and their grandchildren despite the harsh reality of disease and poverty that devastates their family. The Happy Africa Foundation sells a number of bracelets made by the women at GAPA to our volunteers in Cape Town. We are delighted to be able to support women like Betty, Noxolo and Thandi through the sale of beaded bracelets throughout the year. Together we are supporting the framework for a brighter future. With every necklace they bead and every scarf they stitch, grandmothers at GAPA are equipping their families and grandchildren with the tools they need for future success. Together these women are crafting a better future for their families and in turn their community at large, and they do it all with a smile on their face and a passion in their hearts. Every bracelet tells a story of hope.