Just over a year ago two volunteers from the UK arrived in Mfuwe to help us teach some local ladies to sew – we had a few donated sewing machines and some fabric but almost no funds and no premises. Whilst the volunteers, Marion and Ros started teaching the basics at the back of our house, we found an old hairdresser’s shop to rent and set about doing a bit of decorating. Initially we only made washable sanitary pads for local school girls – but this is a whole story in itself – so I’ll tell you more about that another time.
It wasn’t long before the ladies learnt to make bags and as they learnt more so we started using some exciting fabrics and our designs became more elaborate. As we sold the bags we bought more fabric, always investing everything back in the project. But it wasn’t long before a problem emerged . . . we’d run out of space.
By this time six ladies were jostling for room to cut out and sew and we hardly had any room for the customers. So we rented the ‘God Gives Resaurant’ next door and started renovating. Now we employ 7 women (and are about to train 4 more) and have plenty of space for visitors in a light and airy shop.
Our ladies make very distinctive bags by marrying together some unusual materials such as furnishing fabric and the best quality local cotton chitenge. Each bag is unique and has a tiny elephant attached which matches the bag fabric or interior lining.
They also make bright cotton aprons, cotton string crocheted bags, table mats and napkins, dressing gowns/robes, tiny pocket-size elephants and giraffes, wallets and purses and, of course washable sanitary pads.
We try and make everything we sell totally unique; and produce hand printed cards, limited edition lino cut prints and sell beautiful hand carved wooden bowls, napkin rings and more to our own designs. All our wooden products use naturally fallen, legally obtained, timber – and I can ‘hand-on-heart’ guarantee that statement is true as I go out with the guys and collect it from the bush. We treat all wood products with olive oil making it food safe.
Our carver suffers from sickle cell anaemia but keeps himself and several other guys busy. He’s fussy about his wood, choosing interesting gnarled bits that may have lain in the bush for several years. He says this wood makes more interesting bowls. Each bowl is an unrepeatable ‘one-off’ with naturally formed shapes and even occasionally a hole or two.
Through this project we aim to help women and girls be in a position where they can make their own lifestyle choices, either through staying in school and getting a good academic education or teaching craft skills and business acumen. With either it is definitely more of a hand-up, rather than a hand-out, creating a sense of self-reliance and a ‘can do’ attitude. We train women in craft and basic business skills and some stay on to work at the shop making items to sell or training others. 100% of the proceeds from sales helps support the pad project, the Women’s Craft Workshop and Project Luangwa.
Thank you everyone who helped make this project possible – those who donated sewing machines, fabric, craft items and time. Thank you too, to the National Police Aid Convoys who shipped out much of it to Mfuwe from the UK. It would not have been possible without all your help and generosity.
If you’re coming to South Luangwa please call in – the ladies all love to meet visitors and show them what they make.
To donate to Project Luangwa click here. To keep up with the news follow on facebook. Project Luangwa is proudly supported by: Robin Pope Safaris, Flatdogs Camp, Shenton Safaris, Kafunta Safaris, Croc Valley
To see more and hear what one of our ladies thinks about her new role have a look at this video short (1½ min) filmed last year.