text: Annie Waterman
Cape Town-based Wola Nani empowers individuals and communities affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic that continues to devastate South Africa. It offers a variety of skills training and income generation programs, including their craft initiative which helps support approximately 40 – 50 independent crafters. Wola Nani has been active for over 17 years and not only improves economic conditions, but provides resources for those coping with the emotional strains brought on by life with the virus.
Human rights activist Gary Lamont founded Wola Nani in 1994, making it one of the oldest HIV-related non-profits in Cape Town. It was established at the end of the apartheid era, when altruism and energetic ideas were on the rise. As Lamont states, “Wola Nani was a physical expression of the new South Africa. We wanted to open the door for a bit more justice to come in. After the 1994 elections, HIV became the issue. The HIV gay epidemic had arrived in the late 80s, and for a small number of men with HIV, a movement had arisen. But for South African black women and children, there was nothing. They were poor, with low literacy levels, lacking basic resources for survival. They were nowhere near having ‘a voice’. We wanted to provide services for those who couldn’t help themselves.”
The production of crafts has served many, and has brought a sense of hope, purpose, accomplishment, and peace of mind to those living with HIV and AIDS. Proceeds have been helping women and children to attain healthy and balanced diets which support a healthy immune system. All crafters work from home, which gives them the freedom to attend health appointments as well as take care of their families.
Crafters primarily use recycled materials to produce home and fashion accessories including decorated light bulbs, mosaics, beaded bangles, AIDS ribbons, recycled jewelry, papier mache bowls, picture frames, and much more. Wola Nani’s beaded square brooch, signifying a traditional Zulu love letter, reflects one’s support for the fight against. Wola Nani finance and business development manager, Ryan Rode, explains, “In its symbolic arrangement of color and pattern, the hopes and desires of the wearers’ are expressed.”
Wola Nani’s dedication is authentic and steadfast, as they have been networking with professional designers and public relations teams in order to help find an edge in the competitive marketplace. In 2010, they connected with The Indalo Project, where designers Nicci Drzewicki and Mirelle van Reenen added a new level of sophistication to the organization’s range of paper mache bowls. Most works are made from recycled magazines, and the vibrant designs that result are an example of Africa’s vibrant tradition of making the most out of whatever is at hand.
To see more of Wola Nani’s work please visit: www.wolanani.co.za.