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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Binga Craft Centre Zimbabwe - African Baskets

In South Africa today, poverty and unemployment levels are high and xenophobic attacks have sparked a new conversation across the continent amonst the media, advocacy groups and other interested parties.  Xenophobia is described by Wikipedia as "an unreasonable fear of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange".  In South Africa, Xenophobic attacks have occured mainly in the townships by indigenous South Africans against other indigenous Africans. 

I spent 6 months in South Africa this year and had plenty of time to watch the news, documentaries and television debates on the issue of Xenophobia.  What disappointed me most was the lack of solutions presented by the parties on opposing sides of the issue.  Some South Africans felt their own people were lazy, therefore immigrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African nations should be allowed to remain while others argued that all foreign owned businesses should be boycotted!!  I couldn't believe what I heard.

If you are wondering how the Binga Craft Centre of Zimbabwe and the issue of Xenophobia are connected, let me explain....  I walked into a Mr Price Home store at Cape Town's prestigious shopping mall (Canal Walk) and there I saw an entire section of laundry baskets and other hand woven basket containers for the home.  They looked vaguely familiar - very much the same quality you would find in a Walmart, or Target or Bed Bath and Beyond store in the USA...  I turned over the label and yes, you guessed it, the woven baskets were all made in China. 

What was wrong with this picture? I'll spell it out.  Right next door in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho etc... there are thousands upon thousands of unemployed basketweavers barely eeking out a living selling a quality far more superior than what I saw in Mr Price Home.  Why is South Africa importing all the way from China when they could send the business to its neighboring countries?

If South Africa, as an African economic powerhouse, were to create employment on the continent of Africa, the foreigners in their land would follow those opportunities and go home.  It's a common fact that most crafts sold in South Africa are brought in by cross border traders from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Congo, Malawi etc... and many have now settled there to make a living selling their products. 

Binga is located in a remote part of Northern Zimbabwe close to Zambia but it is not impossible to get there.  It is certainly easier than going to China.  Conditions are harsh and most people live below the poverty line, but at the same time, Binga is renown for its hand woven basketry which has found itself on display in top notch New York stores such as Anthropologie.  In fact South Africa sets a bit of a double standard really, because the Binga Baskets I saw on display in Anthropologie were labelled and marketed as a "South African" product and not Zimbabwean.  Not that it matters to me to be honest, I am more concerned about the bigger issues such has crafters being able to earn a living than the country of origin on the label. 

The Marketing Manager of Binga Craft Centre, kindly provided the photos used in this blog.  They are anxious for business and not hand outs. They don't want to relocate to South Africa to find markets for their products but unfortunately that is what is happening today.  I hope this article will motivate us to push for locally produced products regardless of where we live, especially if the raw materials for those products are locally available.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bees in War Against Poverty

The Herald - August 11, 2011
By Ruth Bataumochoh

Thirty-eight-year-old Judith Rutsito of Nyajese village in Nyanga was devastated when her husband died in 2002, leaving her with three children to fend for.

With no pension, nor any formal education that she could use to look for employment to sustain the family, her only option was to brew beer for sale, which she did vehemently for a good one year.
However, a visit to one of her brother-in-laws' homestead, Mr Andrew Nyandoro, turned out to be a life-changing experience that was also to improve her ebbing lifestyle and that of her children, who introduced her to beekeeping as a source of livelihood.
Reminiscing over the trying times she went through the first two years following her husband's death, Mrs Rutsito who is known in the neighbourhood as Mai Chifamba believes her fortunes could have turned around overnight.
Beekeeping, which is centuries old in Zimbabwe, has become a well-recognised entrepreneurial activity among small holder farmers with an estimated 50 000 beekeepers engaged in the activity.
The beauty of it all is that the bee farming industry, together with the horticulture industry and the safari businesses, once the preserve of white commercial farmers, is now open to the small-scale farmers, following the agrarian reforms.
And small- scale farmers have found beekeeping as a viable income- generating activity considering that it is done on a part-time basis, allowing farmers to concentrate on other agricultural activities, while waiting to "harvest".
With no heavy capital injection needed to kick-start the project as is the case with a litany of income-generating projects, smallholder farmers can afford to make a financial projection premised on the diverse plant species as well as the ecological and climatic conditions.
Like other beekeepers sprouted around the country, farmers in the Nyajese's Village 14, have witnessed a dramatic and positive change in their lifestyle, since they started beekeeping in the area.
Although most of them inherited the beehives from past generations that relied mainly on traditional technologies, they have been able to upgrade them to hives from timber, used pots and baskets.
Use of brown sugar, beeswax and propolis as baits has resulted in increased yields, undoubtedly doubling farmers' incomes.
Nyandoro (52), who has been involved in beekeeping for the past 19 years, says his flirtation with bees has paid dividends, adding that his lifestyle bears testimony of benefits he has to date accrued since a neighbour introduced him to apiculture.
"I come from a humble background and for 20 years, I slept in a traditional granary until I managed to build a three-bedroomed house from the proceeds of honey," he said.
Nyandoro who started off with 20 hives, now has over 100, a feat he has achieved owing to patience, persistence and determination. Nyanga
"I now have a regular source of income and I am able to plan and buy inputs for my farming projects, while paying fees for my children," he gushed.
Realising that the numerous spin-offs from beekeeping, villagers have since adopted "busy bee attitude" towards honey production.
So intense are their efforts to make money from honey that they have since formed a co-operative made up of more than 50 people - all beekeepers, though in various stages.
They say the co-operative is one of the mechanism they are using to collectively market their produce, and in the process benefit from schemes that are being introduced by players keen on investing in the beekeeping sector.
Already their synergies have yielded results after a private company Savanna Delights entered into a partnership with them that will see the latter training them on beekeeping and later buying their produce.
Savanna Delights is a private company that supplies honey to retailers as well as honey as a raw material to the pharmaceutical and other industries.
The company is not a novice in the industry having trained small-scale farmers in Mutoko, Nyanga, Chimanimani, Hurungwe, Raffingora, Zvishavane, Chipinge, Buhera, where more than 1 000 households have since benefited from the initiative, which Savanna did in partnership with the Swedish Organisation for Individual Relief.
Savanna Delights is already working on an initiative to empower communities in Shurugwi and Makoni in beekeeping.
Executive director for Savanna Delights Mrs Selina Mercy Chitapi said the company was born out of the need to eradicate poverty by empowering communities with special focus on beekeeping as an intervention strategy.
"It was also born out of the realisation that the apiculture industry in the country was underdeveloped, despite the vast marketing opportunities available not only in Zimbabwe but in the region as well," she said.
Mrs Chitapi, however, said although beekeeping was slowly taking shape in Zimbabwe, individuals and organisations involved in the initiative were still not able to service the growing market.
She added that the huge deficit of honey in the country had resulted in Zimbabwe becoming a net importer of honey, despite the competitive advantage it has in producing the product at minimum cost.
"The country produces in excess of 100 tonnes of honey for the formal market, a figure which is way below the market expectations.
"As a result, a lot of people who use honey in production of say pharmaceutical products are now importing from South Africa.
"Demand for honey worldwide stands in excess of 909 million kilogrammes per annum, with Brazil and China being the major producers," she said.
She called on the Government and the private sector to support honey production, as a long-term poverty eradication strategy.
"If support is extended to the beekeeping community the country has the potential to produce three million kilo- grammes of honey from rural communities alone."
However, despite the low production level of honey in Zimbabwe, the activity is quite robust in neighbouring countries like Zambia and South Africa.
In the North-Western Province of Zambia, beekeeping has since expanded from an informal activity to a booming source of revenue, where more than 10 000 beekeepers own 500 000 hives, producing 1 000 metric tonnes of honey per year.
Half of the honey and other bee products are exported mainly to Europe, earning the country the much-needed foreign currency.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Candle Making and Goats in Zimbabwe

Open Air Candle Making Class
After a tree planting ceremony in Chiweshe the village Chief expressed a need for help with income generating project ideas. 
A month later, we had partnered with a local micro finance organization and travelled to Chiweshe to support candle making training and the beginnings of a very promising goat  rearing project.

The Chairman of the committee shares their plans for the goat project and enclosure

 Together with 2 university iterns from the micro finance organization, we came up with a plan to start 2 projects – one for candle making and another for goat rearing (a world away from New York city for sure).   Tashanda did the research on the different types of candles and candle making techniques around the globe and also researched income generating ideas for goat projects.    

During our visit to Zimbabwe we took alaptop and shared Youtube videos on candle making with the villagers.   The purpose of the video demonstration was to encourage them to think beyond what they imagined was possible (in this case, thinking beyond residential candles for domestic lighting).     It was our hope that after they had mastered the candle making technique they would begin to experiment further. 

The in-progress goat enclosure

We were also given a tour of the new enclosure built for the goat project.   The villagers organized themselves into groups of 11 and 20 for candle making and goats respectively.  Each group has a chairman, a vice chairman and a secretary.  The secretary took notes throughout the day!  A candle making project for 11 villagers costs $600. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The house that books built - Petina Gappah, The Africa Report

Courtesy of Kubatana

Award-winning writer Petina Gappah is working to revive Harare City Library. She explains the importance of the library to the city's cultural life and launches The Africa Report's campaign to help support it.

To get to my office on the second floor of Harare City Library requires a strong stomach. You walk through the main doors of the library, then up the back stairs. There is no lift to the second floor. There was a book hoist once, but it doesn't work anymore. The binding room has been converted into a storeroom that houses exam scripts for Zimbabwe Open University. Next to the book hoist are toilets that no longer work: it is to walk past these that you need the strong stomach - and a clothes peg for your nose.

The library was established in 1902 as the Queen Victoria Memorial Library and Museum - a lending and reference library for the colony's first settlers. It soon built branches in the suburbs of Greendale, Hatfield, Highlands, Mabelreign and Mount Pleasant. Effectively, the City of Salisbury had two racially separated library systems: the Queen Victoria Memorial Library and its satellite branches for whites, and a system of libraries for blacks in the townships, run from the proceeds of Salisbury's beer gardens.

In 1982, the Queen Victoria Memorial Library and Museum separated, and the library portion of it became Harare City Library with its five branches. It still has only the five branches; there has been no expansion. Instead, there has been decay.

The library wears the hardship of the past decade in every torn and broken piece of furniture and in the mismatched curtains hanging askew at the windows. The collection in some of the branch libraries seems made up entirely of large-print books from the '60s and '70s. Some books have not been taken out since 1978. It is not a library for the asthmatic - the dust of years has settled into the books and all the fittings.

Worst of all, the roof is leaking. Above the reference library at Rotten Row are dirty splotches and what look like little white stalactites. There is not a single computer for use in the entire library. An enterprising soul has drilled a light bulb onto a fitting for fluorescent lamps. The telephone has been cut because of a bill that has not been paid for two years. The electricity bill too, has not been paid: like many institutions, the library is making part-monthly payments to keep the lights on.

On the bright side, the electricity is working, and I suspect this is partly because the library shares a grid with the headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF party - the president's wailing motorcade occasionally silences the traffic on Rotten Row. Indeed, the library exemplifies the extent to which Harare, and Zimbabwe, has fallen in just 11 years, and the mammoth task required just to get things barely running again.

The decline of the library is particularly shocking to me because it is deeply associated with the happiest part of my childhood. When my family moved from the township of Glen Norah to Mabelreign, a modest suburb, I joined the Queen Victoria Memorial Library. Almost all my classmates at Alfred Beit School were members.

There I gorged on Enid Blytons and Malcolm Savilles, on Agatha Christies and on the Moses books by Barbara Kimenye. I became obsessed with exploration and wanted to go to Antarctica. The world came alive for me through that library, an experience that I shared with my friends and the many children who swarmed in and out. Throw a stone into the northern suburbs of Harare and you will hit an adult of 30-plus who was once a child member of the Harare City Library.

Its decline is thus not only a grievous wound to my memories, but also a shocking reminder of how much today's children are missing. I have decided to do something about it. I am currently in Zimbabwe on sabbatical leave from my job as a lawyer in Geneva. I have an office at the library because I now chair the committee that runs it.

The committee's vision for the library is as grandiose as it is simple: to make the library once again a central part of the cultural and spiritual life of the city. We want new books, computers, DVDs. A digital library. Most of all, we want a library that can sustain itself without handouts.

The reality, though, is that the immediate term, we will need such handouts. The library has been fortunate to attract attention of the A-Z Trust, a UK-based charity that recently hosted a fundraiser. The money will go towards restoring the building and repairing the roof. The main library building, built in 1962, is worth preserving for its architectural integrity: in 1964, its architects, Montgomerie and Oldfield, received a Royal Institute of British Architects Bronze Medal Award. If all goes according to plan, the building will be completed refurbished and functional by the time of its golden jubilee in 2012.

The committee has also started its own fundraising drive. We have asked some of the most profitable Zimbabwean businesses to consider the library in their corporate social responsibility schemes. We are lobbying the ministry of finance to remove duties and tariffs on imported books. We have also applied for a grant from the City of Harare - the Mayr is one of our Trustees, but considering the amount of monet that Harare needs to restore clinics, roads and schools, this is tantamount to grasping at straw.

We have already initiated an outreach programme. I have talked to school children to get them excited about reading, and my message has been simple: switch off the TV, pick up a book. We intend to take our outreach to the townships too, and, when the money allows, to invest in a mobile library that will bring books to outlying schools, hospitals and prisons. We have already entered into an agreement with an organisation sponsored by USAID to donate 2,000 books for poor children who could not otherwise access them.

The library has launched a dialogue that goes beyond the tedium of politics and focuses on other issues that matter to people. The first event in April addresses the notion of literacy and asked: what exactly does it mean that Zimbabwe has the high literacy rate in Africa? I have a fantasy that the library will be one of the spaces in which Harare interrogates the many stories of witchcraft that are reported without questioning in the newspapers. It will be the space in which people debate issues around foreign policy, around religion, around science, a space in which people discuss their responsibilities to the environment, where citizens ask just how well served are they by the press, a space in which individuals come alive as their horizons expand.

Information, education and knowledge: these are the three key tools to building a better-informed people, better decision-makers, better citizens, happier citizens.

Socrates is supposed to have said that a library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas: that is my persona vision of the library. I see it as a space that will get Harare reading and get people talking. With the hard work of my committee, the support of the people of Harare and the many friends we are gaining around the world, I am confident the day will come when I can walk to my office without having to hold my breath.

Do you have books to donate to Harare City Library? Contact us here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Carry A Baby on Your Back - African Style

Here's a fun/interesting blog.....Have you ever wondered how an African woman puts a baby on her back without the use of fancy baby carriers? The young lady in the video below, Kudzai Kachingwe, shows how easy it is. Make sure the baby is secured around the arms first, then wrap the legs. All you need is a towel - $10 bucks at Target, lol!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Volunteers travel to Zimbabwe to help children orphaned by AIDS

By Leslie Perales of Herndon PatchThe Heart4Kids Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011 trip.

After doing a Google search for missionary trips to Africa, Shaun Shugart, who lives in Oklahoma, came across Heart4Kids.

Shugart said after reading about the organization he was convinced it was where he wanted to go.

The Herndon organization, founded by local resident Sandra Denenga, collects toys and other items for children in Zimbabwe. With the help of volunteers and donors, each year a Heart4Kids group travels to the country to visit villages and help take care of children in need.

Volunteers with Heart4Kids travel to Zimbabwe shortly after Christmas, staying for about 10 days. In addition to bringing toys to the children around the holiday season, Heart4Kids also gathers funds to help provide food, clothing and other necessities.

This was Shugart’s first trip with the organization, and his first trip to Africa. He said being a Christian, he felt it was something God wanted him to do. “He has commanded us [Christians] through his word that we are to care for his people who are in need regardless of where they are from,” he said.

Shugart said one of the highlights of the trip was seeing how happy the children and those in need in Zimbabwe were. “They were extremely grateful for what little we gave them and they immediately praised God for what they had received,” he said.

“One of the specific things that really touched our hearts was when we returned to the orphanage the following days,” Shugart said. “When we rolled up in the van the kids would come running out to the parking lot jumping up and down in excitement to see us.”

Shugart said it wasn’t because the volunteers were great and amazing people, but because they were thankful that God would provide them the joy of playing and spending some time with a few caring strangers. “The small amount of time and money invested in these children was very well spent and appreciated,” he said.

Denenga said for this past trip they were able to bring quite a few toys and goods with them. She said they brought five large suitcases full of items, and the volunteers brought two additional suitcases.

One of the highlights of the trip for Denenga was committing to do more. “We took over the sponsorship of an orphanage home,” she said. The orphanage houses 10 children who will get food, medical care, an education and the things they need because of Heart4Kids. “It’s a huge commitment,” she said.

Denenga said the cost of living in Zimbabwe is high and things like fuel, food, medicine and home repairs can be very costly. She said anything brought in from outside the country is expensive because of government sanctions. She said she feels the need to continue on though, “because otherwise these kids are going to be stranded.”

“The kids were very happy,” Denenga said. She said they recognized the Heart4Kids group and were happy to see them back. She said they spent a lot of time playing with the children and had brought soccer balls and musical instruments. She said they held a party for the children with pizza and cake and the children loved it.

Denenga said she spent time listening to the concerns of the children’s caregivers. She said many grandmothers are taking care of young children because their parents have died of diseases such as AIDS. They are becoming near homeless because they don’t have enough support, she said.

On one of Heart4Kids’ next trips Denenga hopes to bring volunteers with home repair skills that can help these caregivers who don’t have the means to do the repairs themselves, she said. She said otherwise, if they can raise enough money, they can hire local workers to make the repairs needed.

Meeting with the children that Heart4Kids helps makes a huge impact on Denenga and the volunteers, she said. “They just want to go to school,” she said. “They still have so much faith and trust in God in spite of their hardships.

Denenga left for Zimbabwe about a week before the volunteers joined her. While she was there she was able to reconnect with her 10-year-old niece, whose parents had died and was living with a family member in another village.

The family member who was caring for her niece was caring for other children as well and was having a difficult time taking care of all the children, Denenga said. She said they would often go nights without food.

Denenga said children like her own niece are the very children whose lives she wants to make better, and now that she has found her niece she can help her. She also brought her niece to her father’s grave to help provide her with closure. “It was difficult,” she said.

The next step for Denenga is to be able to increase the number of children Heart4Kids is providing care for, she said. She said people can help make a difference with the organization with very little effort and sacrifice, just by helping spread the word. To learn how to help, visit

Friday, February 11, 2011

Village of Hope, Zimbabwe

Village of Hope supports orphaned and impoverished children in Zimbabwe.  On their website they state "The current statistics tell that there are 1.5 million orphans in Zimbabwe today, but places of safety for only 0.5% of this number. They state that the average life expectancy is 34 years old because of AIDS – the middle generation of parents being virtually wiped out – leaving the care of their children in the hands of aging grandparents with little or no means – or with no care at all."

We did some research on Google and we were astounded by the sheer number of orphanages in Zimbabwe.  While efforts are being made to rescue these children there are still many slipping through the cracks.  By supporting missions such as Village of Hope, more children can be rescued.  If you are interested in volunteering in Zimbabwe there are many orphanages who welcome such assistance.  While money helps, your skills, your time and your presence are also highly valued.

Friday, February 4, 2011

From Zimbabwe to Santa Fe

"From Zimbabwe to Santa Fe" is an in-progress 60 minute documentary about crafters in rural Zimbabwe competing for once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase their crafts at the Sante Fe International Folk Art Market in the USA.  The film focuses on the three finalists who narrate their daily lives, their thoughts, their hopes and their dreams.  While you may root for all of the contestants, the spaces are limited to only one individual per participating village.

I am intrigued by this film and can't wait to watch it.  The filmmakers are currently trying to raise $25,000 to fund the remaining part of the journey in Santa Fe.  If you can support, please do.  Check out their website here, and make your donations here.


From Zimbabwe to Santa Fe (work sample) from cristina mccandless on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hey Readers,

Did you receive the 65% DISCOUNT coupon for

ALL PRODUCTS on the Tashanda website yet?

If not, email us at and we’ll send you one !!   Offer

valid until this post is deleted!  So if you are reading this now, YOU


Monday, January 3, 2011

Zimbabwe Artists Project (ZAP)

When  I was living in Zimbabwe in the 1990's I began to come across a new type of artwork in the form of textile art and paintings.  I liked the colors and the textures which were colorful and eye catching, but beyond that I had no further knowledge or understanding of the source.  Around 2003 I came to know this art as "folkart", and the name of the community which originally created it is Weya, a rural Zimbabwean family of villages in the Eastern Highlands of the country.

A group of women in Weya were taught by the European artist Ilse Noy.   Ms. Noy came to Zimbabwe in 1984 as a member of the German Volunteer Service. After working for three years at the Cold Comfort Weaving Co-operative on the outskirts of Harare, she transferred to Weya where she taught local women sewing and painting skills, and appliqué and embroidery techniques.  Today the Weya quilts are sold across Zimbabwe, in neighboring countries, and in fact, all over the world.

Dick Adams, a retired sociology teacher from Oregon is credited with enhancing the recognition of Weya art in America.  He founded the Zimbabwe Arts Project in the late 1990's and since then he has literally transformed the lives of hundreds of people in the country.  I read the newsletters posted to his website and was struck by his dedication to the artists and his committment to true transformation of their lives one individual at a time.  He is an incredible human being indeed.  Please read and support the Zimbabwe Artists Project website on

Below is a video filmed and edited by Sarah Breidenbach showing the lives of rural women artists in Zimbabwe. 

As you may already know, Tashanda also sells Weya art under the brand name Makuti Training Center (location where the women meet to train, create and gather to sell their products).  We visited them only once when we were in a big hurry to get to Harare from Mutare and unfortunately we did not get the chance to learn their stories, take some photographs or let alone develop any form of a relationship.  They are difficult to access as they are in a very remote (but very beautiful) location off Mutare road near Headlands.  However we are very keen to meet them and hopefully one day, we will be able to support them with new business and new opportunities for transformation.

Below is a sample applique from the Tashanda wesbite.  Each applique tells a story, a true story.  The artist attaches a handwritten note explaining the meaning of each piece.  For example below, the story reads as follows (unfortunately the artist did not show her name):
"Two friends are visiting an old woman who stays alone.  They have bought some food and clothing in their bags"
In Zimbabwe the primary reason an elderly person is living alone is because their children have either left the country to seek greener economic pastures, or they have died of AIDS.  The elderly are revered in our culture and so naturally neighbors and well wishers will stop by to check up on such a person, as is the case in the story.  The "food and clothes" indicate they are supporting her financially as well. 

Sample letter below: