HIV caregivers struggle to make a living

SOUTH AFRICA: HIV caregivers struggle to make a living


Craft sales are unable to sustain families caring for AIDS orphans

KWAZULU NATAL, 25 Jun 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - As the number of HIV-positive children and AIDS orphans continues to rise in South Africa's east-coast KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, AIDS organisations have embarked on community-based projects aimed at generating income for the guardians of children affected by the virus.

The goal is to create self-sufficiency and ultimately gain independence from funding agencies. But it has been difficult to sustain the programmes, especially those focusing on traditional crafts, such as beadwork and woodcarvings.

Although beautifully made, the goods often fail to generate income because the crafters lack business and product development skills. The price of a traditional beaded bracelet ranges between R10 and R20 (US $1.50 to $3), but the material costs about US 50 cents and it takes about three hours to make one. This amounts to an income of US 4 to 6 cents per hour.

Since artisans mostly follow traditional Zulu patterns and colour schemes, a large number of similar looking products hits the markets, which also keeps prices down.

Crafters from rural areas often do not have access to markets in town - which are frequented by tourists, the main craft buying clientele - and primarily depend on international visitors who occasionally visit HIV/AIDS projects.

Mavela Creche, a day care centre for children affected by AIDS in the Ndwedwe district of northern KwaZulu-Natal, is one of the community HIV/AIDS projects that has attempted an income-generating programme.

After Medical Care Development International (MCDI) helped to transform the creche into a well-functioning children's centre, it started facilitating cash-earning schemes for caregivers and the youth in the community.

"We came to understand that if we wanted to help the children, we needed to assist the entire family," MCDI social worker Sanele Buthelezi told PlusNews.

Over the past two years, MCDI, with financial support from the World Congress of Religion and Peace (WCRP), has been training the children's guardians in a number of handicrafts, such as beadwork, sewing, catering, gardening and fabric painting. But the proceeds of these activities have been so small that they are "insufficient for the families to survive on", Buthelezi said.

One of the main reasons for poor sales is the lack of a marketplace to sell the goods, noted Doris Zungu, the centre's founder.

Mavela is about 100 km from the main provincial city, Durban, where the crafters attempt to sell their products. But a round trip costs US $4.5 per person, and hiring a stall at the flea market is US $13 per day. Including material costs, two crafters would need start-up capital of at least $30 to sell their products. Since the individual products sell for so little, it becomes difficult to cover expenses, explained Zengu.

At the onset of the project the WCRP paid for stall rental, but even with this assistance the crafters did not make enough money, added Gertrude Ngcobo who volunteers at the centre as teacher, gardener and cook. "Nobody has earned a salary yet".

Although trained in craft making, the Mavela artisans have not received any education in business and administration skills or product development from MCDI as yet, which they feel are necessary to sustain a business in the long term.

While Zungu and Ngcobo told Plusnews they would like to learn new techniques to improve their sales, MCDI facilitator Buthelezi said the crafters weren't ready to take-on additional skills. "There is so much education needed. Each time you want to go forward you realise you [first] need to take a step back. When you speed up the process to reach goals you leave many behind. You end up going with very few people," Buthelezi explained.

"The project is not self-sustainable at the moment, and I cannot estimate how long it will take [before it is]," she said, adding that the craft-making projects might never generate proper salaries. "It is a very challenging situation and a long process".

Initially, it was envisaged that the crafters would pay a small amount of their income - a suggested 10 percent - into the centre's bank account to give the project some financial support, should external funding should become unavailable. But the crafters' income has been so small that they refused to save any of it, Buthelezi said. "People are too needy and too hungry to save money," she noted.

The centre has secured funding until mid-2005. "We hope we will get more funding, but we also want to stand on our own," Zungu said.


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