Unbeknown to her, the man she married had a similar vision. Now 31 years on, the couple have realised their dream – thanks to the owner of Antelope Park, Andrew Connolly, his son Jonathan and well-wishers from abroad who helped them set up the thriving Themba textile project for single mothers. (Themba is the Ndebele word for hope.)
The spacious venue located near the city’s densely populated suburb of Mkoba includes one area set aside for practical lessons on fashion and fabrics as well as a state-of-the-art textile factory.
Here single mothers, who have mastered the basics, put skills acquired during the six months' training into practice during the six months’ training – in subjects that include textile design, cutting, sewing, costing and bookkeeping.
Finished products include shirts, trousers, caps and custom-designed material featuring photographs chosen by customers
“It has always been my heart's desire to give hope to struggling widows and unwed mothers. People need hope. Without hope, life is a disaster. I started pursuing this years ago, albeit on a small scale, by using my experience in fashion and fabrics to teach women the basic skills at our church. Now I am truly happy because the project has grown and is assisting scores of women from the Gweru communities,” said Diana Jones, a fabric designer by profession.
She explained that at the Themba project she and her husband give “practical diplomas” to needy women. “We want the women to first acquire knowledge. They can then put simple sewing skills to use to meet the financial demands of their families. After that, we broaden their knowledge so that their skills meet industrial standards and demands,” she said.
Garry Jones, who has vast experience in the textiles industry going back to 1978 when he was a production manager for Adidas in Bulawayo, said bigger things were in the pipeline for the benefit of women at Themba project.
“At the moment we are training women and then moving them to the factory where they produce fabric for the market. We also communicated with volunteers abroad who have undertaken to donate 100 sewing machines. These will be given to trained mothers so that they can start their own home businesses. We arrived at that idea because we cannot accommodate everyone at the factory,” he said.
The former merchandise manager for Vero Garments, one of the biggest children's clothing manufacturers that operated in Bulawayo in the 1980s, expressed gratitude to the Connolly family for allowing the Themba project to be set up on their premises. He was recently appointed general manager of the whole Antelope Park range after excelling at the Themba project.
Beneficiaries of the project drawn from the nearby Mkoba suburb, were not short of words in describing the positive impact it has had on their lives.
Naome Ziera, 50, who is deaf and dumb and a mother of three, says people like her who are physically disadvantaged, have been empowered to live decent lives.
“There are some people like us who are not educated, who are physically disadvantaged and are marginalised as women. The project has been a life-changing factor to our lives. My children now live well, go to school and have proper meals paid for by the earnings I get at the project,” she said.
She said the project had brought hope into her life as she is the only surviving member of her family. She had nobody to look to for assistance before she was drafted into the project by the Jones'.
Standing in line
Ruth Mathe, 28, said it was difficult for single mothers to meet the costs of enrolling at vocational training colleges. “The Jones family invite single mothers, who are themselves orphans, to come and learn. This enables them to recover from the trauma of loss and broken relationships. The project covers the gap of clinical counselling for single mothers,” she explained.
Other women said they were standing in line to get admitted to the project. “We understand that they cannot take all of us. Almost every week we flock to the project to check for vacancies. We strongly support the project and hope to benefit as well,” said Rosemary Nyagumbo,38, a resident of Mkoba 6.
Amos Chibaya, MP for Mkoba, said the project was an example of how ordinary people and companies could help reduce the poverty of others without being coerced to do so by government policies.
“It’s good to see a couple, in conjunction with others, starting up projects to help women without being forced to do it. This is the way to go. If government relaxes policies like the indigenisation regulations, we will see more positive results of individuals and companies changing the lives of our people – because they will be doing it from the bottom of their hearts,” said the legislator.Post published in: Gender Equality