In the isolated, war-scarred Nkomazi region of South Africa, where the HIV-prevalence rate is 50% and the unemployment rate is 65%, young people face a daunting future. But thanks to Wildly African Crafts (www.wildlyafricancrafts.com), many are learning to support themselves while exploring their creative sides—by making beautifully beaded handbags, cards, pottery and other crafts. The program was started in 2005 by Thembalethu Youth in Action, an organization that tries to prevent the spread of HIV by empowering young people. It recruited local youth to take part in an eight-month workshop, training them in eight craft areas. The program has since grown to include 30 resident craftspeople in their teens and early 20s. “People in this region are subsisting day to day,” says the organization’s Peter Fotheringham. “Our employees are ambitious and proud of their contribution to the community.” The artists receive a small stipend for their work—which many must use to support their entire family. “Little or no support from the government, poor infrastructure, inadequate water supply, extreme hunger and the HIV epidemic have made profitable growth in the region nearly impossible,” Fotheringham adds.
Cobbling together its small budget from private donations and grants—and with few funds from the government—Thembalethu hopes to provide a model for other self-sufficient businesses. “It gave me a sense of independence and taught me to take care of myself,” says Mxolisi Welcome Nkosi, 23, who now specializes in fabric painting.
Youth in Action is only one part of Thembalethu, which was founded in 1999 to resuscitate the region, decimated by civil war in neighboring Mozambique. The organization also offers home-based health care, spiritual counseling, vegetable gardening and food distribution. In the past six months, Wildly African Crafts artists have begun selling their handmade goods (which range in U.S. dollars from approximately $2 to $20) throughout South Africa. They also hope to set up a system for selling the goods online. Would someone please tell the RED campaign?