Struggling, But Holding Their Heads High

05 Jul 2015 12:40pm
By Anna Tervahartiala

KEETMANSHOOP, 04 JUL (NAMPA) - The morning sun streaming through the yellow curtains paints the hallway with gold. All is peaceful and the silence is only broken by the steady hum of sewing machines as four women working at the Karas Huisen Crafts centre busy themselves with handwork in order to supply for themselves and their children.
“We give shelter to women in vulnerable positions,” Gertruida Apollus, the manager of the centre begins.
“All the women who work here are affected or infected by HIV or AIDS and most of the women are single mothers,” the manager continues.
Karas Huisen Crafts was founded in the Tseiblaagte community in Keetmanshoop in 2004 as an initiative supported by the government of the Czech Republic. The centre was founded in order to give women an opportunity to get training in handicrafts in order to make a living and support their family. The women were trained in sewing, embroidery and beading. Since its founding the centre has produced bags, dolls, jewellery and souvenirs to be sold around Namibia and overseas.
Even though the centre was founded with the help of foreign aid, it was clear from the start that the support from abroad was meant to come to an end. The project was aimed to leave behind a self-sufficient company which would be able to grow and continue the work started with outside support. The craft centre received its last funding at the beginning of 2010 and since then Karas Huisen Crafts has stood on its own.
“It was obvious from the start that we will never be independent,” Apollus says.
Even though the knowhow has not vanished, the company finds it hard to make ends meet.
“When one calculates the electricity bill, the materials and the pay of the workers, it is clear to see that we have difficulties in sustaining ourselves,” she says.
Since funding was cease, all women have been paid according to production. Work is done per order, and salaries are paid once the retailers have sold the products. The craft centre has a staff of about 20 women, but the work is not enough to occupy all for the whole month.
The women working in the big hall of the centre are busy with an order of 200 bags from the Ministry of Tourism and Environment. The order will keep the women occupied for the next two weeks, but none of them know what will happen after the order is done.
In spite of the economic difficulties, independence from foreign funding has also had a positive impact on the work done by the women of Karas Huisen Crafts. Responsibility for their own work and income has created a feeling of ownership and pride.
“Now our status in society is low, but we wish to develop,” Marina (surname withheld for privacy reasons) working on embroidery states. Quality cannot be negotiated as sales are the only means of making a living.
“This has changed our lives. It has changed our lives both at home and in the community. We have learned that we have our own hands and we can support ourselves,” Maria, who has been working at the centre since its foundation, states.
When looking at the future the manager of the craft centre, Gertruida Apollus has hope and determination in her eyes. According to Apollus it is not so much aid, but orders that the centre is looking for. Over the past few years Huisen Crafts has become a central part of the community, filling the gaps of Government support.
“There are several and severe loopholes on grassroots level,” the manager says referring to the fact that Karas Huisen Crafts is one of the few centres occupied with concrete work in order to address the high levels of HIV and AIDS, poverty and unemployment of the region.
Even though the centre has been able build a strong network for vulnerable women of the community, Apollus says similar structures targeted towards men infected and affected by HIV or AIDS are missing.
Looking at the impact of Karas Huisen Crafts on a wider scale, Apollus emphasises that work done at the craft centre is not only about employment.
“When we started, there was a stigma of entering the doors and working here. Now the women are proud to have a job and a profession. They work for themselves and they can bring something to the table,” she says in conclusion.