In the early 1990s, a lady by the name of Jenny Thorne was approached by local Swazi women hoping to sell their handcrafts made from local grasses. Seeing the beauty of these products, and the opportunity for income generation for the women, Jenny established Gone Rural. Today, Gone Rural provides regular income to 780 women across the country, who use their traditional knowledge and skills to produce contemporary products from sustainably grown raw materials. 80% of these women rely on this work as their sole source of income and 82% are the sole income earners for their families. Furthermore, the women are supporting, on average, 8 dependants, which equates to about 6,000 people benefitting solely from Gone Rural’s work. Their products are registered Fair Trade and are earning a reputation across the world for quality and beauty.
If that’s still not warm & fuzzy enough for you, in 2006 Gone Rural established boMake – a not-for-profit organisation to further contribute to the women and their communities. A quarter of Gone Rural’s profits go towards boMake, which covers about 5% of boMake’s work. This work has been developed in consultation with women, in the areas of education, water & sanitation, women’s empowerment and health.
The latter of these is where I come in. Last week I commenced on my two year journey with Gone Rural boMake, to establish and expand on their range of health programs. Already, in the space of a week, I have been blown away by the team and the women involved.
boMake is comprised of four staff members: Yael, my straight-to-the-point supervisor, and Project Manager; Shelley, her counterpart as Project Coordinator; MK, who does much of the water & sanitation projects; and Tanele, who takes care of scholarships and kindly takes care of me, too.
Then there are the artisans. On Tuesday, I met the wonderful women from the surrounding areas who make their way in to Gone Rural every week to do their craft. On Wednesday, I had my first chance to travel out to one of the rural groups at Emoti in Grand Valley. Although I could barely speak a word of Siswati, the women were so welcoming and within the space of a few minutes I had already been given a siSwati name – Nomsa – meaning “Kind heart”. Needless to say, I already have my eyes set on about 5 kids that I’d like to adopt.
Then on Thursday, I was able to participate in the Artisans’ meeting. Every two years, each of the Gone Rural groups elects a group leader, and these leaders head to Gone Rural offices every three months to discuss and feedback on Gone Rural and boMake. Given how much Swazi people hate conflicts and disagreement, I fully expected this meeting to be full of a lot of “yes” responses. Instead, I was heartened to hear the women politely and confidently voice their concerns, say no to certain suggestions, and suggest their own ideas. I guess that’s just indicative of the rapport that Gone Rural has developed with their women. I also learnt much more about how involved women are in the running of Gone Rural, from setting their own prices for the products, to having representation on the Gone Rural board.
As week one came to an end, there is one thing that really stood out to me and has made me realise how lucky I am to have landed this gig. Gone Rural is not an organisation for 780 women – it is an organisation run by 780 women.