Women Capture their Stories with Needle and Thread

Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust
Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust

A fundraiser for a group of Rwandan embroiderers is being held at the end of the month in Pretoria following in the footsthe establishment of a unique embroidery and empowerment project in the Winterveld:

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

A remarkable story has emerged from one of South Africa’s most dire areas, the Winterveld, where a group of women were trained in the early ‘90s by members of the Soroptimist International Pretoria Club for an income-generating, empowerment project.

The Sisters of Mercy provided a classroom and an embroidery project for the women of Mapula which started initially with 14 women, evolving through the years and growing to include 150 women, guided and supported by experienced individuals.

In a unique storytelling fashion, with needle and thread, these women have been sharing their stories over the past 26 years. And it is often these personal remembrances capturing our past from a unique vantage point that has captured the imagination internationally. Over the years, the high levels of technical and visual artistry with social and historical commentary have resulted in recognised works of art.

Their ideas are generated from lived realities, local magazines, newspapers, internet and television. Artists in the project draw the images while others translate them into brightly embroidered wall hangings, cushion covers, place-mats and bags, all represented in Mapula Embroideries.

Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld
Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld

These have been exhibited widely, both in South Africa but also internationally, all over the USA and Europe. Mapula embroideries and artists feature in more than 12 art publications and they have won several awards.

Women in the Mapula Group won the FNB Vita Craft Now Gold award for example; an order for 52 items for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls was executed; and many different art museums across the world feature their work and celebrate the Mapula women and they are included in many private collections.

A well-researched book Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann was published in 2006 by David Krut Publishing.

The project now consists of three groups: two groups are situated in the Winterveld, North West of Pretoria, and one in Hammanskraal. The production of the goods is managed by the embroiderers themselves and since 2016, the Mapula Embroidery Trust with NPO status was established.

One of the members, Pinky Resenga testifies that the project saved her from a life of drinking and living on the streets. “With the income I could extend my mother’s house. After helping her I hope to build my own four rooms for myself and my children.”

The income generated through the Mapula embroidery project has assisted women over the years to clothe, feed and educate their children. Today, 28 years later, the Mapula Embroidery Project with its strong foundations is well established.

Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project
Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project

A few years ago, after visiting the Mapula Project, Netty Butera, the wife of the Rwandan High Commissioner to SA (after visiting the Mapula Project), approached the Soroptimists who initiated Mapula to start a similar project in her country with the initial training of 12 women.

Again it was to add value and the possibility of a regular income to extremely vulnerable women in the south of Rwanda at a place called Kibeho, close to the Burundi border. It is regarded as a holy place because in 1981 it is believed the Virgin Mary appeared to some teenagers. It marked the rise of the remote Kibeho to a spiritual hub on the global arena. Many pilgrims visit annually and if the women instead of begging could generate an income from the sale of an embroidery project, it would improve their self-esteem and offer their children a different future.

Following much planning, three women, Rosina Maepa and Dorah Hlongwane from the Mapula Embroidery Project and Janetje van der Merwe from Soroptimist International Pretoria left for Rwanda with suitcases packed with embroidery cotton, fabric, a brand-new sewing machine, two steam irons, needles and scissors – all to get the project started in a new country.

Local contacts, liaisons as well as facilitators were arranged to keep the process flowing and in the past few years, another training trip for a further 19 women was included which brings the total number of women who are part of the project to 31. Marketing of the products is still a huge problem and something they hope to improve dramatically so that those involved benefit to the maximum.

Rwandan embroideries
Rwandan embroideries

With this as the focus, a fundraising afternoon of socialising and sharing will be held at the residence of the Rwandan High Commissioner in Pretoria on March 31. It will start with the best Rwandan coffee and tea, followed by an opportunity to buy some of the unique Holy Land Kibeho Embroideries, listen to an introduction of Rwanda and an illustrated talk on the empowerment of women in that area through the embroidery project.

A Rwandan dinner with South African wines will be served after the presentation giving those attending the chance to experience another African cuisine. Tickets for the event are R200 per person and bookings can be made at 083 447 7909/082 903 1178/073 564 8215.

South Africa is a country that makes it easy for individuals to reach out. Some wonder if their efforts make a difference, but when one witnesses a project like Mapula and how the lives of people are changed – even across borders – it shows how even a little assistance can go a long way.

 

 

One thought on “Women Capture their Stories with Needle and Thread

  1. Dear Diane

    This is just to say thank you so much for this lovely article on Mapula and the women in Kibeho.

    Fortunately we have sold out re the Fundraiser evening on 31 March. I did however keep a seat for you as our guest.

    Would you be able to attend?

    Kind regards

    Janetje

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