PHOTOGRAPHY BY HANNA WIGART, DERRICK MULFORD, GEORGIE FOX, TAY BELCHER AND KATHLEEN FELTHAM THROUGH ALERT, AND EMILY VALENTINE WITH OUR GRATEFUL THANKS
One of the major lessons learnt during the pandemic was the need for people to have a diversity of skills in the Victoria Falls area that did not solely rely on Tourism for income creation. With this in mind, the iThemba Centre was conceptualised as a place to teach valuable income earning hand skills for youth and women. Thanks to a legacy donation, the Centre is now open and operational under the group name of Batoka Creatives.
Shaped uniquely like a beehive cell, the building was designed by Christie Hasted Sabag to create a central courtyard with rooms wrapping around this. Our Indaba (meeting) courtyard is the start of all projects. We meet with village elders and headmen and the actual people that projects are focused on uplifting, to discuss the viability of each before we begin.
Batoka Creatives operates as a separate income earning project, funds from which sustain each project and improve wage earning amongst the group, allowing for expansion of our skills training areas and the number of people in each project.
Currently operational are beading, sewing, embroidery, felt work, crochet and snare wire jewellery projects. We hope to receive more funding and move into woodworking and welding.
The first project to start at the centre was beaded jewellery. Using the finest quality Miyuki seed beads, interspersed with Czech crystals and silver and gold plated pendants, the team produces stranded necklaces and silk bracelets along with loom woven bracelets in vibrant colours. This project has proven to be extremely successful, with products available in many locations in Victoria Falls including at our Centre shop and in the Batoka Creatives retail outlet. Amatuli in South Africa now stock a wide range of designs.The pieces are available internationally for wholesale via Powered by People.
The viable success of this first project has shown the great potential of the various projects for income earning and sustainability - exactly what we dreamt the centres would be used for.
The initial project started at the Centre was sewing education - a natural extension of our Girl's Dignity project which continues to expand. Building from this concept, a group of 4 trainers to be were selected and under the wonderful tutelage of Winnie Manenji, our gifted head of project, learnt the basics of sewing, starting on hand powered machines, moving to foot treadle power and finally onto electrical machines and overlockers. Once these trainers had reached a high level of skill, they in turn became educators. Now, several mornings a week, groups of women come and work through the training program developed to up skill them in general sewing skills. We look forward to our first graduation and fashion show in June 2023 from the first intake, who will be ready to start their own sewing businesses.
On the other weekdays, the trainers supplement their income by making up clothing, tote bags, interior items and gift packaging, in bright traditional fabrics and local cottons, that are sold at our Centre shop and in the Batoka Creatives retail outlet.
A small group of embroiderers that had disbanded when another project stopped have rejoined together under the Batoka Creatives group to produce highly detailed hand embroideries inspired by nature on cloth and felt. Sunglasses cases, babies' mobiles, decorations, cushion covers, napkins and many other decorative items are coming to life under their nimble fingers.
Using amigurumi techniques, working in fine crochet cotton, another team of ladies create whimsical keyrings, rattles, pram clips, toys and dummy holders featuring baby animal characters in soft colours. All items made are sold at our Centre shop and in the Batoka Creatives retail outlet.
The newest project at the Centre is Mopane Recycled Snare Wire Jewellery. Just as the Mopane tree brings optimism to the people and animals of Zimbabwe, as the first tree to burst into leaf after the long dry season, so too does our range of snarewire jewellery bring hope.
Every year, over 200kg of snare wire are removed from Victoria Falls City and the surrounding park’s areas. The majority of these illegal snares are placed by people in vulnerable circumstances. Our vision is to reshape livelihoods by turning the snare wire into beautiful jewellery, earning viable incomes and teaching eco consciousness.
To transform this deadly wire into jewellery has been the cooperative effort of local jewellers Ndau Collection team members Joe Mutoka and Ngoni Chivasa with Children in Wilderness, well-known designer Christie Halsted and Obert Monga of the Ruoko artists’ project. Together, based at the Jafuta Foundation Centers of Hope, a group of young men and women from the vulnerable rural community of Dibutibu are trained to rework the wire, whilst the women of the Batoka Creatives make beaded embellishments. The income earned, along with the educational training drastically reduces subsistence poaching. A portion of the funds earned are donated back to local anti-poaching teams.