Crafts, Cornmeal, and Grieving with a Friend

(this blog entry is reposted to this new blog format…it was originally written in April 2006 when Timbali Crafts was in it’s very beginning stages)

Today was one of those days when you arrive home tired and with a few aching muscles, but glad for the reason you have them.

On Mondays I meet for teaching and training with the women who volunteer at the care points in Engculwini. Many of these women are single moms (some with up to 9 children!), or grandma’s raising their grandchildren, and most of them have no income. Their work at the carepoint is volunteer, but at least provides them with one meal a day.

After months of seeing these women bear the heavy burden of raising a large family alone, seeing their children sick and malnourished, and seeing all the time they volunteer to cook food over a fire every day for the orphan children in the area, I knew God was calling us to figure out a way to help them earn some money. We are now in the very beginning stages of starting a “craft co-op” among the women, by helping them learn to do some crafts and then finding buyers for the goods they make.

Yesterday was our first go at learning a new craft. I showed women how to do a simple appliqué design using some of the local African fabrics, with the hopes that they’ll be able to use the skill to decorate greeting cards, tote bags, etc. I’m also hoping to organize some local Swazi artists to come teach the women how to weave baskets, and make other traditional crafts as well.

Just as the women had gathered around to see how to cut, layer, and sew the fabric, a huge flat-bed truck pulled up with a donation from the World Food Program. The truck was stacked 5 high with 50kg (about 110 lbs) bags of corn meal. We set down our thread and needles and got to work.

The next hour and a half was CRAZY as we pulled the bags off the truck and hauled them into the storage room. It was a bit humbling to watch some of the little grannies struggle less under the weight of the bags than I did. Some of the smaller women would put so much “umph” into slinging their bag of corn meal onto the pile that they would fly right onto the pile with their bag! Over 200 bags later we were all sweaty messes.

We sat back down, thanked God for the provision of food for the care points, and continued on with our sewing. The women seem so excited about the possibility of making a little money to support their families. PRAY that money would come in to help with buy start up supplies for the ladies, and also to purchase their goods so they can be sold in the U.S. Pray for connections with places in the U.S. where the crafts can be sold.  PRAY for community to develop among the women as they learn and work together, and that they would clearly see God watching out for them and caring for their needs.

After we finished our meeting, we all headed off to the home of one of the volunteers whose husband had died the day before. More than 20 of us gathered into a small room and sat on grass mats on the floor. The women began singing songs in Siswatti, and between songs someone would pray or share something with their friend. The grieving widow was also sitting on the floor, and had a cloth draped over her head so she could not be seen. Swazi tradition says that widows must be in seclusion for one month following the death, with no one allowed to see them. After the time of seclusion is over, the woman will be required to wear all black for an entire year.

Afterwards we gave two of the women a ride to their homestead. Before we left they had picked 2 heads of lettuce out of their garden as a gift to us. Lettuce is much less stressful gift than the live chicken they had given me as a gift a few months ago!

I’m so thankful for being able to work with these women and get involved in their lives. It was a packed day…laughing hard, sweating harder, and grieving with a friend…but it was good.

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