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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rwanda Baskets at Macy's

Last week I received an invitation to meet Janet Nkubana, founder of the Rwanda Path to Peace Basket project at an event to be held at Macy's Herald Square in Manhattan. Since I was in the area that evening, I decided to go and see these baskets that I have heard so much about.

Upon arrival, on the 6th floor, where the event was taking place, there were numerous people all waiting in anticipation for the event to begin. The baskets were simply gorgeous and professionally laid out on one side of the room, and there were waiters dressed in black with trays of complimentary champagne and Godiva chocolates!!I am always amazed at the range of skill, talent and creativity in Africa. Zimbabwe is famous for its Binga baskets, Swaziland for its magnificent Swazi baskets, South Africa for its colorful telephone wire baskets, and now Rwanda with its impeccable and colorful baskets. I felt really proud to be an African woman standing amidst such wonderful work, and I felt justified in what I always tell people, that Africa is a best kept secret for crafts which is slowly coming out.

A representative from the Rwandan embassy said a few words, followed by Janet herself and then finally the CEO of Macy's Terry Lundgren. Janet's speech was by far the most emotional and you could see how moved and overwhelmed she was by all the love and support around her. I'm so happy for Rwanda, the country really deserves this after years of war and loss. Maybe one day when Tashanda has expanded to the rest of Sub Saharan Africa (as is our intention), the people of Rwanda will be our Partners too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tashanda Awarded Entrepreneurs Achievement Award by AngelAfrica

Audio Books at

Hi Everyone. On Dec 12th Tashanda's president was presented with the 2008 AngelAfrica Entrepreneurs Achievement Award which is dedicated to persons of African descent who are promoting private sector development by creating and/or managing businesses on the African continent and who are fulfilling AngelAfrica’s mission to improve Africa’s economy through private enterprise. This award shows the depth and breadth of Tashanda Inc.’s mission to fight poverty, support micro enterprise in Sub-Saharan Africa, and achieve the United Nation’s Millennium Development goals.“When I think of Africa and Zimbabwe in particular I don’t think of wars, famine, hyperinflation and more recently cholera. That’s not to say I ignore it either. I simply choose to focus on what’s possible for our continent and I always look for the positive. So when I think of Zimbabwe this is what I see…. I see talent, I see creativity and innovation, I see resilience, beauty and phenomenal possibilities.
We wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t love Africa or if we didn’t believe in what is possible for the continent. I’d like to challenge everyone here to think of a way to invest in Africa. Many of you are going there for the holidays, so I challenge you to set aside some money $50 - $100, and figure out a way to make a difference in the life of one person living in Africa today. As a social entrepreneur my favorite ideas are always business related. So just to get you thinking, here are some ideas:
• Donate your old cell phones & some phone cards to get someone started on their own phone shop.
• The cheapest sewing machine at Walmart is $40. You can purchase it online and have it shipped directly to Africa to help someone start their own clothing business.
• You can purchase seeds like beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, maize and other staples. Home depot has them or you can buy them on line and ship them directly to Africa for a market garden business
• Or, if you are feeling extremely generous, you can spend USD$100 to USD$200 to purchase a donkey and cart and set someone up with their own transportation business.
It really is that simple!
• Finally, you can also go to to purchase products made by the micro-entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe.”

Simple ideas that really work.

Thanks for all your continued support .

Social Enterprise:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Recycled Paper Crafts in Zimbabwe

Tashanda attended its first New York City street festival a month or so ago. Since we don't have a retail store this is one of the ways in which we market our products and we meet some interesting people along the way. One of these people is a woman named Janice Ashby, who is investing a great deal of time and effort in Zimbabwe after stumbling across well made paper products in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe several years ago. She has sent machinery and equipment to Zimbabwe and now there is a thriving paper making production facility in one of the high density suburbs. Local women and men have found employment and an opportunity to earn money from themselves.

Zimbabwean Author Peter Godwin reads from his new memoir at a New York City fundraiser for Eco Africa Social Ventures.

Last night I attended a New York city fundraiser for the non-profit arm of Janice's business which is known as Eco Africa Social Ventures. It was very well organized and there were some very interesting people in attendance, all of them there to support Zimbabwe. It was touching and moving to know that so many people cared. Tashanda has added their recycled paper products to the website on this link - Eco Africa Sample paper products by Eco Africa recycled paper being sold by Tashanda

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tichakunda Preschool

"I Want To Be A Teacher When I Grow Up"
I can't belive it's been almost a year since my friend and I visited the pre-school at Hatcliffe Extension which we have since learned is named Tichakunda.

I'm happy to say that Tashanda has managed to contribute a percentage of Afrobag sales for this year to this cause. The amount has not been a lot but it's a start and we are encouraged by the possibilities we can create for this school and these children.

I have never had to fund raise before so I had no clue how to get people involved in this cause. Eleven months ago I posted 2 of the videos from the original Hatcliffe Nursery School blog (see menu on right) to Facebook. Several months later a friend of a friend saw the video. She was so touched, moved and inspired by what she saw that she decided to set up a non profit organization called Art from the Heart solely to raise funds for the operation of the school. She also built a fabulous website ( which describes the school and explains what help is needed etc... There is also a fund raising effort going on to raise $10,000 to build a borehole for the children to have access to clean drinking water and allow the volunteer teachers to grow vegetables for the children's daily meals. I cannot believe the potential of all of this and hope you will support us to achieve our goals.

In this blog I'm going to share some of the e-mails I've been exchanging with my close friend on the ground in Zimbabwe. This is the friend I was with when we discovered the pre-school. She is now actively working with the school to see how they can be assisted by friends outside of the country to help develop the school:

“I can't help feeling that we can do so much more for these kids. They are sitting in the dirt and I felt a bit as if my efforts were not good enough.............How are you otherwise? Don't ever get tired of doing good work, we are needed more than you will ever believe, believe me there are not many like us. Noone seems to have the time or inclination to do something for nothing.”
“i have attempted to itemise these needs as laid out to me in order of priority.
1) Borehole, there is a deep unprotected well on the premises which is the only source of water. It is very frightening to imagine what could happen to one the children if they wandered off and fell in. Not only that but there is a huge area of unused land that was once a thriving garden but has since died due to lack of water.If we could raise funds for a borehole there could be a thriving garden that would provide lunch for the children.
2) Gravel or concrete floors for the classrooms. Currently the children sit on dirt floors which is a health hazard.
3) 8 Metal Roof Sheets (12ft) for two of the classrooms that currently have no roofs.4) Allowances for teachers, $800 million (USD80) a month, plus anything that may help, laundry soap etc
5)Furniture- Tables, chairs, matresses etcThe kids diet is also very poor, they have one meal of porridge aday which is not sugared and grossly inadequate. We came up with a basic menu for the school at yesterdays meeting which looks something like this:
9am Porridge
11am Banana
1pm Sadza and vegetables
4pm Maheu +bun
Most of these children are orphans or from broken homes and do not have regular meals. So if anyone knows anyway in which we could get these food items please help. Barbara maybe you could do a project proposal for Plan International?I leave it in your hands fellow leaders. I will continue to work with this preschool and I pray that the group thinks this a worthy project to adopt for PANEL.”

“Dear All,

Please find attached donation request letter for the preschool graduation party on 29 November. Whatever you can contribute would be so appreciated. The letter details what is required. Maybe those with contacts e.g Wavell has meat etc can just contribute that information.


Rita your questions are answered on the attachment Building project 1. It's very rough as I did whilst on the phone with Mr. Hove. If you can't figure it out I will summarise. Thanks and I am sure the building will be fab. A borehole is priority though.”

15 September 2008,

Dear Sir/ Madam

As the year draws to a close it is once again time to say goodbye to some of our beloved children as they proceed with life and enroll for primary school. We have nurtured them and given them a meal for the past few years and we now hand over the baton to the next lot of caregivers. This is always a sad time for us as we see some children coming back for another year as their parents/ guardians are unable to raise school fees. Our crèche and day care centre has 525 children this year. Three quarters of our children are considered orphaned and/or vulnerable.

We are appealing to you for donations for our graduation ceremony, taking place on 29th November 2008. This is an occasion where we make these children feel special and appreciated. We want the children to leave with confidence and special fond memories of Tichakunda, a place that has been a haven in their very tough environments.

We are appealing for donations mainly in the form of
Food (except alcohol and pork products) Dry and tinned goods are most needed as the crèche does not have electricity.
Goodies Any goodies for the Christmas Party- chips, sweets, cooldrinks etc. Anything that the kids would consider a treat.
Blankets and Clothes. Most of our children come barefoot and have hardly any clothing to speak of. Any blankets, shoes, clothes would be greatly appreciated.
Books and Pencils As we are working on the childrens wholesome development we would also like old books, crayons, pencils etc.

Thank you for your kindness. Any assistance no matter how small will be appreciated. Help us to help these helpless and innocent children

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back in Bloggerville

It's been a while since I blogged or e-mailed any customers & I do apologize for this & hope you will stick with us during these trying times in Zimbabwe. The biggest, most newsworthy event in Zimbabwe relates to the elections, the power-sharing agreement and more recently, the power-sharing disagreementc. Our emotions as a people have soared to hope & excitement, then just as quickly have spiralled downwards to despair & frustration since April 2008. Inflation is staggering at about 250,000,000% (or more by now) and I cannot even begin to imagine how people with no family overseas are coping. Overall it has been quite a horrendous ride & I'll take the so called poor US economy any day with its 2-3 inflation (or is it less??)

Anyway, you may wonder why what is happening in Zimbabwe is affecting Tashanda & I will try to explain. Firstly there were rumors that the international community was planning to ban exports from Zimbabwe - crafts included!! This left us in a state of limbo. What if we imported our products only to have them rejected at US based ports? So we had to wait it out and see.. and we are still waiting because the power sharing agreement is still under negotiation.

Secondly, while we wait things out, we've been developing our plan to develop the website to make it more user friendly and efficient, so we have not added any new products too our pages (sorry!). This is thanks to many of you who responded to our customer survey on Hopefully within a month or so, you will see the new and more permanent Tashanda website.

Thirdly I've been getting creative and designing new products I hope to introduce over the course of the next year or so. Sounds like a long time to wait but given how slowly things move on the ground, this is how it will have to be.

I am stil looking for non-profits, individuals and or private businesses to partner with to carry out some of the initiatives, so if you are reading this and want to be a part of the African Arts & Crafts transformation, please let me know - financiers included!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Silveira House - Part 1

Locating talented artisans continued to be a huge challenge for me during my 2 week visit to Zimbabwe. The tight economy had left traders tight lipped about where one could locate artists, so all I could do was ask everyone I met. One Sunday at church I told a family friend that I was looking for artisans and she asked me “Have you tried Silveira House?” Silveira House? I had never even heard of it. She gave me the directions and that same afternoon I took a drive….
I continued to be in awe of the tranquility of my surroundings. This location was no exception. The premises is on several acres and for miles further on, all you can see is beautiful tranquil landscape and plenty of trees like the Jacaranda. I was a long way away from New York City that’s for sure.
Silveira House is located about 8km from a suburb called Mandara in Harare. It was named after a sixteenth century Jesuit missionary and was founded in 1964 by Fr John Dove and a small team of colleagues. During those early days it operated as a training and leadership development education centre. Programs in civic education , industrial relations, agricultural cooperatives and youth training evolved in the pre-independence years. Later nutrition and child care, appropriate technology, craft skills, dress making and commercial skills projects were added. Programs have come and gone over the past 44 years in response to particular needs. Today it is still adapting to the emergence of a new Zimbabwe and is finding that training in civics, peace building, advocacy and research, as well as small scale engineering, together with HIV and AIDS awareness are key elements in their work. The leaders of Silveira House try to practice what they preach by allowing their premises to be used by several small scale enterprises. These businesses are run by some of their course graduates and have become fully independent entities that rent space from the center.
There were three main artisan groups that I decided to interview:
Art Peace Cooperative – a cooperative of stone carvers from Tafara and Mabvuku (Harare suburbs), which has won awards for its work. They sell locally as well as export their unique work.
Zuva Rabuda Crafts – produces and sells high quality tie-dye and batik products. The artists also market products from impoverished communities such as Binga.
Chishawasha granite – this small cooperative makes beautiful headstones for graves from local rock. It’s big business in a nation suffering from the worst AIDS epidemic imaginable.

I introduced myself to the first person I met and it turned out that she is a member of Zuva Rabuda and also does tie-dye training for the local surrounding community. When word got around that I lived in the United States and was interviewing people for my blog I could sense some impatience by others as to when it would be their turn to be interviewed. I loved talking to everyone but at the same time it was a little overwhelming because by interviewing them, I was planting a seed of hope which I couldn’t promise to fulfill i.e, a chance to export their products overseas.... While finding export markets for them was definitely my goal, I still worried about my ability to deliver results, and I worried that I risked losing their trust if I failed to deliver what they expected. So many people do this you see. They interview, they buy, then they promise to return with more business, and it’s the last time they hear from the individual.
I made a decision to try to approach it differently & communicate the fact that instead of buying only what they had in stock, I would challenge some of their designs and in doing so see if we could consider other design options where necessary. They seemed to understand this in the end, which was a relief.

The next few blogs will feature interviews with these individuals and discuss my thoughts on the product quality and design. I look forward to hearing feedback from readers.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Taking a Break to Smell the Flowers

Save Up To 50% At PetCareRx

After one week in Harare I was exhausted because I was trying to accomplish so much in the 2 weeks I had set aside for the visit. One day I decided to just stay at home and enjoy the glorious sunshine, chirping birds and gorgeous flowers. I just sat in one of my hammocks on the verandah (porch) & watched the sun stream through the magnificent Musasa trees gracing the yard. It was so peaceful & dreamy - so typical of a summer's day in Zimbabwe. My poor St Bernard Bruno was huffing & puffing in the shade because it was so hot. Whoever decided this was a good breed for an African climate was sadly mistaken. Then I walked around the yard with Bruno trailing behind me as I took random photos of the flowers in the yard. The rains hadn't yet started to fall during my visit so I was glad to see these - aren't they so beautiful?

Later in the day I drove to the "Borrowdale Village" which is a shopping mall in a neighborhood called Borrowdale. I used to visit this mall a lot as a teenager & it's always my favorite shopping place in Harare.
Below are 2 photos I took of the Village, a rare taste of the Africa they don't show in the media:

Then I went back to my hammock on the verandah...

Healthy Snacks with NutsOnline!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Afrobag Nominated for Designer Awards "Most Socially Responsible Handbag"

April is the month which validated some of the work Tashanda has done so far. About a month and a half ago we submitted a photo of an Afrobag to the annual Handbag designer awards under the category “most socially responsible handbag” Well in the first week of April I received a call from Emily Blumenthal, who is the creator of the website Handbag Designer 101 ( to personally tell me that were one of top five finalists in the competition which had in excess of 600 applicants. Now I understand what it means to be nominated for an Oscar. You can laugh but I’m serious. When you see those celebrities on TV saying “it just means so much to be nominated, it doesn’t matter if I don’t win…..” Well finally I can believe that they are telling the truth. Winning is less important to me than the recognition and publicity this event has brought with it. Tashanda was interviewed by the New York Daily News and two e-zines have done a special on our work. It’s been great!
Immediately after talking to Emily I called Zimbabwe and asked that the message be passed on to Max and Maki, the makers of the hand bags. On a personal level, the nomination also went beyond Max and Maki. To me it was an affirmation of something I have always known – that Zimbabwe isn’t just a nation of inflation and political uncertainty and food shortages. It’s a nation of people with real talent, real skills, determination and ability. It’s a country of entrepreneurs which like many other African nations are not yet being recognized enough for their talents. My next move was to e-mail all the Zimbabweans and other friends on the Facebook network who had supported Tashanda to promote the Afrobag brand. Everyone was excited. You just don’t know how good it felt to hear so good and honest news about something originating from Zimbabwe. Tashanda has just scratched the surface. We expect to go way beyond what we have done so far, and even move into other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Well done Zimbabwe, well done!!
Aside from that not much else has happened. I travelled to Belgium and London for 2 weeks of the month, so activity was somewhat lessened. However as promised in November 2007, I will continue my stories about my visit to Zimbabwe and all the artisans I met when I was there. My next blog will be about Silveria House which is a place where an assorted range of artisans work. I’ll introduce them one by one and give them a voice to speak about their work. Thanks for all your love and support!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Investing in Africa

Question: How many African stock market indices outperformed the S&P 500 over the past three years?

Answer: Nearly all of them - and that's in US dollar terms.

On Tuesday night I attended the screening of the documentary "Africa Investment Horizons". The event took place at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with a few hundred people in attendance. The documentary was basically about the benefits of investing in Africa. .There is a new Africa out there people and you absolutely have to watch this movie. We're slowly regaining our self esteem after a somewhat battered and bruised past and if you don't invest now, you'll miss the boat.
The documentary said it best, that smart investors know that in order to really make money you have to invest where no one else is investing, and today, that place is Africa - yes, Zimbabwe included!

Please take a look at the website and be sure to watch the other documentaries on Africa on the same site:


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shona Sculpture at Hartsfield Jackson Airport

I love Hartsfield Jackson Airport!! Hard to believe with the long security lines being the busiest airport in the world... So why all the love? Well this is where the biggest display of Shona Sculpture from Zimbabwe is displayed in the Western world.

The sculpture is located on concourse T of the airport. It’s the first terminal after you walk through security. If you take the train to your concourse you will miss it, so make sure you catch the train after walking through concourse T.
I couldn’t resist taking photos, and to my surprise & immense pleasure I wasn’t the only one.

I didn’t take photos of all the sculpture because I want you to go and see it for yourself. Isn’t it amazing??

Word has it the display was put up when Andrew Young was mayor of Atlanta and the pieces at the time were valued at an estimated $1 million dollars!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Birth of the Afrobag - Part 2

One of my most important goals when I visited Zimbabwe was to find a bag manufacturer to make African handbags called Afrobag. This is something I’ve had on my mind for several years. The reasons behind the Afrobag are simple:
a)create a product with a positive multiplier effect within the grassroots levels of society, & thereby contribute to the elimination of extreme poverty; and
b) take something back with to America to remind me of home on a daily basis.
The first (and currently, the only) line of Afrobags is made using batik fabric which relies on the skills of several types of low income (but not extremely poor) artisans and suppliers. These are batik artists, bag makers, weavers and leather suppliers. These groups are typically still consistently linked to their rural homes where extreme poverty in Zimbabwe is greatest. So for example, during Christmas or planting season, they’ll go to the rural areas to share Christmas festivities or purchase fertilizer for planting season. They can only do this if they are financially able to do so. Mr. Meneyere for example, who is our Afrobag sewer, lives in the city but his wife and family (and extended family) live in the rural areas. He visits them when he can afford to do so, but he is currently the main breadwinner for his entire immediate and extended family. You can imagine what a huge weight this is to carry. So Tashanda’s plan is to find people like Mr Menyere and use them to continue their support of their extended families in the rural areas. If demand for his skills grow, he may even be able to pass on his skills to family members and help them out of poverty in that way.

One might ask why Tashanda does’t go directly to the areas where the extremely poor are located. The answer lies in the fact that they are situated in areas which are so remote that there is unlikely to be any electricity, accessible roads, and/or communication. We have identified some remote locations for other projects which do not need electricity, but that is another long story…
As mentioned above, the other reason for creating the Afrobag was really for personal gratification. I love sadza batik so much that I absolutely had to create something with them. In 2006 my sister came to visit me in the USA & was the first person with whom I shared the idea of making handbags. At the time I was struggling to find a name and in an instant she said “why don’t you call them Afrobags?” Wow, so simple for some…

Mr. Menyere is a really nice, down to earth man. He’s quiet, patient, very respectful and hardworking. He’s also a man with a huge talent that he has managed to maintain in spite of Zimbabwe’s economic decline. He told me that he used to work at a factory in Zimbabwe which made handbags until it was forced to close in the late 1990’s. The owner of the factory liked him very much and left him some of his sewing equipment prior to relocating to South Africa. Today Mr. Menyere is based at the home of his former owner where he sews bags to sell to local shops. I asked him how business was treating him & he shook his head in despair. The price of leather, glue, lining, zippers – everything – has gone up and continues to go up every day. He was referring to Zimbabwe’s escalating inflation rate which is currently the highest in the world. He doesn’t own a car so he uses public transport or a bicycle to carry his products to his customers. He showed me some samples of his work and I was impressed with his workmanship which was very neat. He makes a variety of bag styles using mainly leather and fabric combinations.
I showed him Tashanda’s batiks & asked if he could do something with them & he said he could with no problem. So I left him with as many as he thought he could handle in the week and a half I had remaining. By his estimate he was going to make 30 bags, although in a good week he can churn out up to 100 a week. He told me he works with his brother who also used to work at the factory. His brother Maki is much younger & he too is a great person to know. We showed the two brothers the 2 bag patterns we had designed and wanted him to make. We also agreed that we’d take him to a high density location where he would then purchase the leather he needed for the bags. We also left him a 50% down payment to enable him to purchase other materials / costs for the order.

The next day, we drove to Epworth, which is a low income high density neighborhood in the greater Harare area. The town of Epworth began as a place where displaced people used to live and as a result, does not have much of the town planning you typically see in other Harare locations. Here, it’s not unusual to see a mud hut next to a well constructed, modern brick building coupled with unpaved roads. There was a roadblock along the way and the police stopped me & asked for my license. Due to all the Zimbabwean money I’d been carrying, I’d been having to travel with several handbags at a time and as my luck would have it I simply couldn’t find my driver’s license. As I searched the car I felt a rising sense of panic – not because of anything the policeman had said or done, but more because of the BBC & CNN news articles I’d read about the “escalating violence” in Zimbabwe. When I’d lived in Zimbabwe I never felt this way and fortunately my fears were unfounded because the policeman told me to move along but make sure I had it on me next time. Phew!! Needless to say, when I returned home that evening I saw another handbag under the driver’s seat, and sure enough my driver’s license was in there!

As we proceeded to Epworth, My Menyere explained that the place we were going to was the home of his friend who imports scrap leather from South Africa as the leather costs in Zimbabwe are quite astronomical. While Zimbabwe has about 11 tanneries the shortage of livestock and decline of farming and agriculture has forced prices so high that they are too high. This friend of Mr. Menyere used to sew handbags as well but decided to change professions & become a leather supplier instead. He did have someone sewing wallets on his porch though, which he explained he sells to the local market. The leather was very expensive. The prices were marked on the exterior of each bale and I watched as Mr Menyere sorted the pieces and the colors he wanted for the bags. It was a hot day and the selection process took ages. This man was so meticulous!

As he continued to sort through the leather his friend started telling me how well his leather business was doing and how he had managed to build two houses in the Epworth area as a result. He was also keen to assure me that his leather was imported legally (Zimbabwe has so many punitive laws and regulations which can result in heavy fines if not complied with, especially in the area of import/export) and he showed me his customs documentation. His home looked like it had about 3 bedrooms & it had a large yard which was walled and gated. It was a nice home.
Zimbabweans are into so many forms of employment. When you read statistics telling you the unemployment rate is 80% what that statistic is really saying is that 20% are in formal employment (banks, schools etc..) and most of the rest are working for themselves, and maybe even employing others who are being excluded from the statistics. This leather dealer is a typical example. There were also a multitude of vendors in the area & they were everywhere, selling fruits & vegetables and baskets.
Finally when My Menyere finished making his selections, we drove back home & left him and his brother to start the debut Afrobag range.
At the end of the week I went to examine the samples he had managed to produce and I was pleased with the result. This is the very first bag he made for us:

The biggest challenge faced by Mr Menyere was the power cuts. I would get to their studio in the middle of the day & he & his brother would be asleep because they were up all night working when the electricity was on. Such is the life of Zimbabwe today. These are hurdles we face on a daily basis and I worry sometimes about how Tashanda will overcome this, especially if larger orders start coming in. Right now the only solution is to ensure that orders are placed very early, much earlier than your average factory order. The other option is to consider solar energy, or a generator. I have no clue about the former and the latter is very expensive.

I’m happy to say that the order was completed in time for me to leave for the USA. Not all the bags came out the way we had hoped but we were happy with the initial response from our customers. Mr Menyere is calling me almost daily to find out how his bags are selling. The order for 30 handbags made a tremendous difference in his life and a continued stream would certainly lower the current financial burdens he has on his shoulders. He is keen to get more orders as soon as possible and we are working really hard to find orders for him.

There are hundreds of skilled workers like him in Zimbabwe whether they are shoe makers or natural jewelers or sculptors, who need access to international markets and micro finance, but as far as I can tell there is no financial assistance available for people like him. If it’s there, he doesn’t know about it and even expressed some reservations about approaching a bank for a loan. Why? He’s never approached a bank in his life and feels intimidated and unsure. He didn’t have to say it out loud, I could just tell from the manner of his response. There is so much work to be done. As the old Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

So this is the story of how the Afrobag was born!

Zimbabwe Votes

Zimbabweans headed for the polls in late March, 2008. I was travelling at the time but every second I got, I was watching CNN and BBC news from my hotel room, and scanning all the online newspapers and blogs I could find. I prayed. I prayed really hard. I prayed for peace and I prayed for the country that I love so dearly. I prayed that whatever the result, it would be a true reflection of the will of the people. I also prayed that the winners & losers would realize the enormity of the power in each of their hands, and that they would choose to make the right choices - choices that would keep the peace in a nation on the already on the edge. It’s been 2 weeks since the elections and the results have not yet been announced. Nobody seems to know what's next and most people have already lost hope because of the silence on the election results and are continuing their lives as before. Please keep Zimbabwe in your thoughts and prayers...

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Facts of Poverty

My three new friends smile shyly at the camera

• 1.2 billion people live on less than US$ 1 per day
• 2.8 billion people live on less than US$ 2 per day
• 75 per cent of the poor live in rural areas
• 60 per cent of the world’s poor are women and girls
• The average income in the 20 richest countries is 37 times higher than in the 20
poorest countries
• Higher inequality tends to retard growth in poor countries and encourage growth
in richer places

Africa poverty books:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Birth of the Afrobag - Part 1

The primary goal of is to contribute to the elimination of global poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Zimbabwe. I am no expert on poverty and maybe I am somewhat naïve but surely the solution to poverty elimination is to teach people how to help themselves and facilitate the means to do so until they can stand on their own?

Why is poverty still an issue in 2008?

I’ve asked myself over and over again - What can I do? I mean, it’s my country after all and I am a product of Zimbabwe at its best time as bread basket of Africa. Was all that education for nothing? I applaud the countries and organizations that have helped Zimbabwe & Africa, but I also think it’s time that those Africans who are able to do so, do something to lift their own continent out of poverty!! It really isn’t that difficult. Look at nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus and It really is that simple. Some African countries are difficult for international organizations to penetrate, but people like you and me who visit home often can enter and make a difference without all the red tape.

I always felt overwhelmed about where to start and how to make a difference. So I spent many years planning, analyzing and researching, then planning, analyzing and researching - just going in circles just like that. Then one day a person told a story on television which finally motivated me into action. I didn't know the story teller but she told the story the way my Grandmother would have told it - in the old African oral story telling tradition known as "ngano" which is typically based on characters in the Animal Kingdom. The title of the story was "The Hummingbird Perseveres" and the storyteller as I later learned was Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Mathaai. I was so inspired that I went on to purchase her book, and today she is one of my greatest inspirations.

The story goes as follows:
"I want to tell you a story because it is a story of "never give up." It is a story of a forest that went on fire, a huge forest that suddenly was on fire. There was a big fire raging. All the animals came out of the forest. As they came to the edge of the forest and they started watching the fire, feeling very discouraged, feeling very disempowered. Every one of them did not think there was anything they could do about the fire except a little hummingbird. The little hummingbird said, "I can do something about this fire. I'm not going on the side to watch the forest burn."

So the little hummingbird ran toward the nearest stream. The little hummingbird took a drop of water, and put it on the raging fire. Then back again and brought another drop and kept running up and down. In the meantime, the other animals are discouraging [the hummingbird]. They are telling it, "Don't bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too little, you can't do much about this fire." Some of these animals that were discouraging it had big beak that could have brought more water than the hummingbird. But they weren't. They were very busy discouraging.

The hummingbird decided not to be discouraged. It kept going up and down to get the water and put it on the burning forest. And as the animals were discouraging it, without wasting its time, the bird looked back to these other animals and saw how desperate, discouraged and persuaded they were to stay on the sidelines and not get involved. One animal said, "What do you think you are doing?" And the hummingbird, without wasting time, looked back and said, "I'm doing the best I can." "

And this is how I see the work of Tashanda - "we're doing the best we can"

Muhammed Yunus and Kiva, like the hummingbird, started by giving micro loans of about $50, $100 or more to individuals who wanted to start a business. And today the impact has been phenomenal. Don;t get me wrong - I know many of us are already sending money home to send family members to school, to pay their household expenses etc… but let’s think for a minute about what we can do to help them help themselves as well. It’s not hard to find micro-entrepreneurs in Africa – they’re everywhere - just search within your own family.

There is an unfortunate misconception that Africans wait for handouts all the time, and I really want to challenge that misconception. I’ve never known people who work harder than Africans. Africans are so resilient and innovative, and many, many Africans are working against seemingly insurmountable odds to survive another day. A modern day welfare system is more of what I would describe as a “handout” to be honest. I’ve visited rural areas where even under the worst drought conditions poor subsistence farmers living on less than a dollar a day will wake up at the crack of dawn to go and plough their dry, soil eroded fields until the sun sets, in an effort to make a living. So to say people like this are waiting for handouts is somewhat unfair. What they really want is a stepping stone to the next level. Their challenges are not only limited to the climate, but also to infrastructure. The poorest people are often isolated from roads and the hub of their communities whether it is the city or a smaller growth point.

Zimbabweans continue to work just as hard and I'm determined to keep up the hope through Tashanda's support of artisans on the ground. Just today, my good friend and sculptor, Wimbai Ngoma, send me about 21 photographs of his latest pieces (which are totally amazing by the way). If this website did not exist, how was he going to show the world his talent?

In Zimbabwe we face all the challenges you can imagine, but I am still very optimistic that the economy can turn itself around. I don’t like to talk about politics in Zimbabwe because I feel there are enough people doing so already, and as a result, the attention has shifted from the positive stories of the possibilities & good things happening on the ground, to issues of all the negativity. While I don’t dispute the negative aspects, I’m one of those who still strongly believes in the strength & goodness of Zimbabwe, so I prefer to leave all the ugly political stuff to those that want to talk about it. I believe it’s better to act than debate all night without reaching a solution; and at this point in time those who can drive the economy (like Wimbai Ngoma) are waiting for orders which aren’t coming because of all the bad news which has driven away investors…Luckily this is my blog and I get to decide what I want the news to be! And I'll show you both sides of the story!

To be continued….

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Stone Sculpture - Catalog Experiment

Bear with me please - I'm trying to figure out the best way to show you all the stone sculpture photos sent to me by the artists in Zimbabwe? Any ideas? Help!

Monday, January 28, 2008


I just want to remind everyone that the purpose of the stories I am sharing with you here is to show you the real people behind the products you see on the website
Batsiranai is actually the first producer group I visted on the second day of my arrival in Harare.
For those of you who haven't heard of Batsiranai, let me tell you about it. But before I begin... let me tell you about the stigma associated with having a handicapped child in Zimbabwe. I never really believed it existed because my own cousin was born with downs syndrome. His name was Fadzi and he was the light of our lives. I didn't know he was disabled because nobody treated him as if he were. It was only as I started to get older as he struggled to learn how to walk and talk that I realized something was wrong. Regardless, as a little girl he was my favorite toddler because he was so lovable. I remember sitting on a couch with my sister, Fadzi between us, and he loved to give hugs. That particular day he gave me a hug then my sister pretended to sulk and he turned to her smiling and have her a hug. Then I pretended to sulk and he turned to me and gave me another hug. I don't know how long this went on but he continued to give us one hug after another.. that memory makes me smile. Fadzi passed away a few years ago but he will always have a special place in all our hearts.

So going back to the issue of stigma associated with disability, I do recall attending a mini-olympics for disabled children in Harare and sittling next to some ignorant fools who were laughing at some of the children running on the track... Other than that my personal experience has not been negative. While there are many schools in Zimbabwe for children and adults with disabilities there remains a common fear of the unkown amongst the public about people with disabilities. Fear fuels prejudice and unfortunately this is something from which the whole world suffers... Jairos Jiri, St Giles, and St Catherines are three major institutions for children and adults with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Fadzi attended the latter two schools during his childhood.
If you want to know more about the handicapped in Zimbabwe please refer to the NASCOH (National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped) website at
Batsiranai, which means "help each other" in Shona language, started in 1998 as a support group for low income women with handicapped children. I can imagine that it was important for these mothers to share their struggles with one another and develop solutions as a team. Chief volunteer at Batsirania, Lynne Poole, describes it best: "Batsiranai is a member of Zimbabwe Parents of Disabled Children Association (ZPDCA), an advocacy organization registered with the Government of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Social Welfare. Within ZPDCA there are 600 families with severely disabled children living in various townships around Harare. The original Dzivarasekwa group consists of 24 mothers and George (an older brother of a disabled child). The sale of handicrafts has enabled the members to reach out to include additional mothers from various townships around Harare. Today there are 110 mothers working with Batsiranai (November 2007). The dream of this project is to grow and grow quickly, so that all 600 families may participate in the success of Batsiranai."

As always happens when we visit Batsiranai we got a little bit lost. The center is situated in a high density suburb which means there are many narrow roads with street names that are not always visible...We stopped by a group of children aged about 8 or 9 who were playing and asked them if they knew how to get to the center from where we were. One young boy started directing us and a passerby told him to hop in our car and take us there. I tell people that going to Zimbabwe makes me feel grounded again & reminds me of who I am. This encounter with the young boys and the stranger passing by was a reminder. How many parents in a different part of the world would condone a stranger telling their child to get into the car of another stranger? The stranger meant no harm and I have no doubt that the young boy would have gotten into the car, but needless to say, we told them it was ok and that he did not need to get in.
When we first visited the center in December 2006 it was very quiet since it was Christmas and most mothers had gone home for the holidays. This time around it was a completely different scene. As we walked into the yard there were children oustide playing on a swing set, and there were some mothers near the entrance
working on their needle work. It was quite a lively and noisy atmosphere. The childrens classroom is the first room you enter into, followed by a play area further ahead with toys and books. On the left side of the room is a napping area as well as a huge mattress where some of the children with hydrocephalus (big heads) lie. Hydrocephalus is caused by not having a shunt put in at birth which is what would happen in the west... the delay in surgically putting in the shunt causes the swollen head which is permanent. It was hard to look at these children because the swelling looked painful to me. They cannot lift their heads up because they are so swollen and heavy so they have to just lie there... all day...It just broke my heart. Just today there was a news report that Britney Spears had been hospitalized. It was headline news on CNN World report! The paparazzi need to leave her alone & stop taking so much malicious enjoyment of her personal problems. Surely these kids in front of me made better cases for headline news...?? Life is so unfair.

Continuing with my description of the center... next to the napping area is a kitchen where all the childrens meals are prepared. To the right is a long hall way with an inventory storage room and another kitchen on the left, and a raw materials storage rooms on the right - includes needles, thread, fabric etc... The hallway leads to a large open space where all the women make their crafts. See the video above.

Most of the mothers have children who are handicapped as well as children who are not handicapped. We met two older (non-handicapped) children as we were touring the premises and one of them asked me to take a photo of them. For some reason they had already decided they wanted a photo at the back of the house, away from the mothers, so we went there. There was one beautiful little girl named Nyengeterai who decided she wanted to be in on the picture as well. She struggles to walk so she was dragging herself on the ground to follow us. She was wearing a pretty blue dress which was getting ruined as she chased after us. The older kids just laughed and told her to hurry as she made sounds that she wanted to come too. They weren't being mean at all, just treating her like she was fully able to follow. And sure enough, within a few minutes she was sitting next to the others with a triumphant smile on her face. Notice in the picture that she is the only one smiling! Zimbabweans don't smile much for the camera, so while here they have a serious look on their faces, literally seconds before they were laughing & joking with me.
I decided Nyengeterai deserved her own photograph for her efforts & here she is!!

About twenty minutes into our visit Lynn Poole arrived. Lynn is an American woman who has dedicated her time, money and efforts to support the women of Batsiranai. She tries to give the women as much independence as possible but I know she works really hard behind the scenes to get the word out about the center. She also spearheads the product design and development amongst other things. She says it took a whole year to get the dolls made right! We sat and talked with her about the center and the challenges they face. The challenges of course are many and she didn't really need to spell them out. I could see for myself that the children needed more equipment to aid them with their disabilities for example wheel chairs and special shoes, and the center needed materials and equipment to make their products.

I could also see that in spite of the positive direction the center was moving, donations were still very welcome. I say this because on behalf of, I donated cash equivalent to $2 per doll sold on the website back to them. They ullulated and sang a short song of thanks to Tashanda which was so touching... Their gratitude was so real it made me want to do even more in 2008 to help them. We purchased more dolls which you can see on This time they had a selection of larger dolls known as "mama dolls". Mai Nyegeterai (one of the leaders) told me that when I last came ot the center my friend had suggested that they make dolls with babies on their backs and this is exactly what they did. I was so happy to hear this because it shows how serious they are about growing their business and being more competitive.
I asked for permission to interview some of the women and ended up talking to only two. I spoke with one woman named Rosey for a

few minutes. Rosey is an exception to the average woman at the center because she has no children. She came to the center because she used to take care of her disabled niece who later passed away. She stayed on and has become a permanent fixture at the center. Rosey has had a tough life. She was a "chimbwido" (virgin girl who served the "mujibas" - a messenger and carrier for the guerrillas ) during Zimbabwe's war of independence in the 1970's and also suffers from epilepsy. These issues interrupted her education very early in life. In fact, when I asked her the year she was born, she couldn't tell me and pulled out her ID for me to read for myself. The date was July 17, 1965. This means she was ten years old when she started as a Chimbwido.
I was preparing to find a second woman to interview, when I looked across the room and saw a boy in a short pink chair that looked like a high chair because it had a flat surface to place food. Something about the child, seemed odd so I walked across the room towards him. He was EXTREMELY thin and looked malnourished. He was also crying but no tears were in his eyes. He was clearly in distress so I reached out to hold his hand. His entire hand covered my one finger, he was so small. When he felt my touch he stopped crying for a minute and looked around as if he was more aware that there were people around him. I wondered how old he was because while he looked no more than three or less, his teeth were very mature and well developed. As we waited for his mother to come Rosey told us that they couldn't afford to buy him a special chair so their brother group, known as "Batsiranai - fathers with disabled children" (see, made him this chair using papier mache. The chair was strong and I was impressed by the innovation of the fathers who made it.

His mother eventually came and she told us his name was Paul and that he suffered from cerebral palsy and brain damage after a long and difficult childbirth. She said he was ten years old.... The video and pictures below show Paul and his mother as we interviewed her.

This was a hard interview to conduct. You cannot see it clearly but his mother was in despair and tried to put on a brave face. It’s so important for me to show you this interview because I want you see the life behind the Batsiranai product you purchase, whether from or from any other website.
Paul’s mum buys medicine and other necessities for her child with the sales proceeds. She's not asking for handouts, as many poor nations are accused of squandering - no, she's walking miles & miles a day to this center, to make a toy, bag or jewellery to sell to you. The product quality is no different from a toy at a mega toystore, she's simply at a disadvantage because she's poor.
Me: “What does he need?”
His Mother: “He needs a pram from me to move him around”
Me: “You’d mentioned earlier that he needs a specific sized pram. What size?”
His Mother: “I am not sure what sized pram he needs”
Me: “How old is he?”
His Mother: “he’s turning ten years old on November 29” (in about 16 days time)
Me: “Ten years. Has he ever walked in his life?”
His Mother: “No”
Me: “So is it just a pram he needs? Is there anything else?” “ Is medicine available?”
His Mother: “Sometimes you can find it and other times you cannot. The name of the medicine is Phenobarbital and Valium ( Diazepam )”
Me: “Is there anything else you want to say”
His Mother: “He also needs special food. These days he prefers milk, popcorn and soft foods.”
After meeting Paul I could not do any more interviews.
Readers, you have to have been there to understand. It took a lot of energy out of me because his situation was upsetting. I don't mean to paint a bleak picture though. The other kids had lesser disabilities, they were vey healthy and could talk, walk and play. Added to this, the atmosphere as I mentioned before was lively and positive. It's just that meeting Paul took away a little something from me that day and I couldn't stop thinking of him for the rest of my vacation. During those remaining 2 weeks I searched all the childrens stores to find a pram and i couldn't find one! Could it be because most mothers carry their children on their backs and the rest can afford to shop for them in South Africa? I don't know but I do know that I've seen many prams in Zimbabwe before & never really wondered where they came from.

Does anyone have a donation they would like to make for Paul and other children like him? Email me PLEASE! Or click on the donation button on our home page

To learn more about Batsiranai, or if you want to purchase products wholesale from them, please click their website here: . You will also find their entire product range here. If you need help contacting Batsiranai, you can also e-mail me & I can put you in touch with the right people.

My final question to Lynn was about the need for volunteers. She said volunteer assistance from anyone with an interest or a background in design would be very welcome. Added to this they would deeply appreciate donations of natural thread such as embroidery cotton, wool or cotton yarn (used to make the dolls hair so should be black, brown, yellow or gray), scissors and sewing equipment. in addition to this any donations of felt, paintbrushes, needles and tape measures would be welcome.