Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Reporter
FROM initially exporting 14 traditional Ndebele baskets to Liechtenstein in 2009, Lupane Women Centre now exports the product to more than 20 countries, realising at least US$60 000 annually.
The centre has grown and now members also own a lodge, a restaurant and a small plot where they are into poultry farming.
It now has 450 professional weavers from a little over 20 at the beginning and the total membership is 4 500 women from the district.
At inception in 1997 it had 14 women from Pupu, Lupaka and Gomoza wards.
The 14 founding women on realising that a Harare based organisation, National Handcraft Centre, was placing regular orders for the baskets, concluded that it was making a ‘killing’ from their products. It was against this background that they approached the then Lupane MP Dan Jubane who approached then fellow MP Angeline Masuku who was a board member at Self-help development foundation.
The women with assistance of Cde Masuku’s organisation then approached the American Embassy which recommended a volunteer Mrs Claire Raicla to work with them which led to the birth of Lupane Women Centre whose director is Mrs Hildigard Mufukare.
“During the first years of our existence we used to realise about US$500 annually from the local market. A Non-Governmental Organisation, Liechtenstein Development Service came on board and realised that we were incapacitated in terms of marketing our products and brought in an online marketing expert and in 2008, we exported our first 14 baskets and by 2012 we were exporting to South Africa and Netherlands,” said Mrs Mufukare.
The centre continued to grow in leaps and bounds with more women coming on board as they realised the benefits of being members of the organisation.
The centre now exports to more than 20 countries including Zambia, Malawi, Poland, Sweden, United States of America, Switzerland, Australia and India.
“Government, through the Ministry Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development and Zimtrade has been availing local and international marketing opportunities for us which has helped spread our wings. This centre has changed women’s lives here in Lupane and brought stability in families,” said the centre’s marketing manager Mrs Khayelihle Sibanda.
Mrs Theresia Dube, a 70-year widow from Shabula Village said through proceeds from weaving, she will soon be constructing a four roomed house and has also managed to buy household utensils.
“I have already bought the bricks for the house I intend to build. I am also able to pay school fees for my two granddaughters while meeting my own needs despite being a widow,” said Mrs Dube
Another villager, Mrs Sabelo Ngwenya (69) said she has managed to buy bricks to erect a precast wall around her homestead.
“Very soon my homestead will just be like those in the cities. Our lives have made a complete turnaround especially in the last few years,” she said.
Mrs Ngwenya and her colleague have been members of the Centre since 2017 and like all the weavers at the centre, they are self-taught. Barring any eventualities, the two village elders said they take a minimum of 10 days to complete a single basket.
“Each member has a different work rate so there’s is no set number for one to make per month but we encourage them to make as many as possible,” said Mrs Mufukare.
She said membership to the organisation is open to all women in the district upon payment of US$10 per group of 10 and an annual subscription of US$5 at the prevailing bank rate.
Locally, their products are sold at their base in Lupane at prices ranging from US$3 to US$150.
Besides members of the centre, Lupane Women Centre has 22 employees who work at the administration offices, restaurant, lodge and the farm.
“We continue to be grateful for the support we continue to receive from the Women Affairs Ministry led by the Minister herself Cde Sithembiso Nyoni. We are at the moment working with the ministry’s legal team to address a few challenges we are facing in our export business,” said Mrs Mufukare.
Article Source: The Chronicle