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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.