The sun beats down hard on the red lowveldt soil. It’s only mid-morning in October but the high sunlight bouncing off my baby’s white skin makes me wince as I cover most of him and sling him onto my back. Up there, he’s almost out of reach of 30 pairs of curious hands… but just close enough to giggle deliciously as they tickle his white toes. “umfana, umfana, umfana… ” the preschoolers start chanting… “little boy, little boy, little boy…”
“EH! You have learned to carry babies like us?! SHO!” Teresa smiles broadly as she greets me. She speaks firmly to the kids and they step back from us momentarily, before creeping in again, jostling to lay a hand in mine, to ‘take five’ and tickle his toes once more…
It’s the first time I’ve visited the care point and I’m immediately uncomfortable. Conspicuous with my white skin. I think of how many adults like me visit these places, take pictures, and later regale their northern hemisphere friends with stories of how they ‘helped the orphans’. I squirm, thinking about it and almost run back to the car. But instead I give myself a slap and get on with it. I’m under no illusions about ‘helping’. I’m here to learn. I’m visiting with my wonderful friend, local farmer and founder of non-governmental organisation One Heart Africa. I’ve come to meet Teresa, to see the amazing work she’s been doing at the care point and to see the embroidery work produced by the local women’s group she’s been organising. To fully appreciate the situation you need a little backstory…
When Swaziland’s HIV/AIDs epidemic started producing a generation of orphans and vulnerable children, it became obvious that something must be done. The government decided to open ‘care points’ in local neighbourhoods, targeted at providing basic childcare and feeding local kids. This project was almost immediately handed over to glut of international NGOs. Their track record has not been fabulous. This particular care point was constructed by a well-known NGO, and then pretty much left to fend for itself. Some of the kids are actually sponsor kids… but in practice, none of us are really sure what that means.
Which is where Teresa stepped in. She’s a local mama, no special training or resources. She saw a need and stepped in. Now she supervises and loves the kiddos who come to her every day. It’s not always easy to get her hands on food, let alone resources for play and learning, but she aims to provide a meal every day. Usually pap, the local maize meal staple. The kids are bee-oot-iful. Many come from home backgrounds that I’m not going to detail here, but trust me when I say that they would make you weep. We’ve had the privilege of getting to know them better recently (including involvement in The Craziest Christmas Party That Ever There Was) and they are little legends.
Why am I telling you all this? Because Teresa’s other initiative is an embroidery group that she’s started… They call themselves Pagama Bomage (pa-GA-ma bo-MA-gee) which means, ‘women rising up’, as in trying to support themselves financially, powerfully and with dignity. You may have seen me advertising their work on instagram. It’s super cute. Here are some examples. The ladies get a fair price for their work, and profit is channeled back into the care point and local community.
Here’s what’s available at the moment. Click on each individual picture for a bigger view.
How can I get my mits on one of those?
- Winter Market at Ivy Church, 97 Barlow Moor Road M20 2GP, 11am-5pm. 25 framed pieces available. If you want to guarantee yours for Christmas presents, be fast or be last. Fifteen pounds per framed piece.
- Order directly from me. These are unframed and unhemmed. Ten pounds per piece including shipping. I will post asap and it is likely they will make it to you for Christmas (usually takes one week for postage and 3-4 days for the ladies to produce), although I can’t guarantee this. If you have my UK phone number, drop me a Whatsapp message or alternatively email me on firstname.lastname@example.org