ILIZWE, which means land in Xhosa, symbolizes a shared purpose on this small Earth. In that spirit, Ilizwe EmPOWERment thrives in the universal dream of educational and financial freedom. We began with a small gathering of residents of Molly Blackburn, an informal settlement in Nomathamsanqa, the larger community we serve. That first day in 2015 they shared their hopes: a nursery school for Molly children, brick and mortar homes, clean water, electricity, enough food to feed their families, and a decent-paying job. We knew their dreams hinged on financial security, but how do they move from jobs that barely allow them to survive to a career that allows them to thrive? First, education. Second, you recruit the beautiful people highlighted below. Third, you take one step at a time. If you’re interested in supporting this initiative by becoming a sponsor, click here.
OUR FOUNDING MEMBERS
I was born in Addo on December 10, 1968, and I grew up in the neighborhood of Molly Blackburn in Nomathamsanqa. I am raising four children, including a child of my sister, who passed away from cancer a few years ago. Currently I live in a shack, but I want an RDP house from the government. I am a Xhosa, and as black people, we have our traditions. We wear the special cultural clothes when we are burying our loved ones, and after they are gone, we remember their assistance. We slaughter the goats and the cows to remember our sisters.
Before Ilizwe, I had never crafted. Now my life has changed, because I know how to do pillows and bracelets and more things. I love it, and I want to know more about handiwork. I am so lucky to be in Ilizwe because I also learned about sharing, how to share with people. I also like that I can do something that other people like, that they can accept it. I want to help other people and teach other people, too. Last year this money helped me with my children’s school. My dream for this project is that one day it will be bigger than it is, so I can earn more money and move out of my shack into a real home.
I was born in 1973 in Addo, South Africa, and live in Molly Blackburn. I really like living here, because everyone feels like family, and I get a real sense of community. I have two sons: one 13 years-old and the other one 18 years-old. I have no father now, because he passed away in 2013. I work, but only during the picking season. When the season is over, I do not make an income. Those months can be difficult, because we still have to provide for our families.
Ilizwe changed my life because now I am able to make an income all year. I do not worry as much. I have less stress. I like working with beads, and learning to sew and knit. I am able to do more crafts than I thought. We are more creative than I first knew. I now know that things can be learned - that if I do not know how to do something, I can learn. We just need to be taught. Also, when I am doing it, I love it even more because I know it is helping my family. I know this program will grow bigger. My life dream is to go to school and finish my studies. I would love to become an educator, to learn to teach children.
I was born on February 24, 1984, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Now I live in Molly Blackburn in Nomathamsanqa with my mother, and I also have four siblings. I love my community of Molly. Although we do not have houses, and we all live in shacks, my neighbors and friends are kind and supportive. We have fun. We laugh. We joke. We also work hard.
I am proud to say that I am one of the founding members of Ilizwe Empowerment. At first, I did not know how to do any of what we do now. Now my favorite projects are beading and making Molly’s Dollies. I would like to learn more about sewing. I believe this crafting initiative will grow and be much bigger. Ten years from now, just wait. Ilizwe will help me with my biggest dream: to have a home of my own someday. I cannot do that now, because my other job is that I am a seasonal worker at a citrus pack house. That means that I help package up oranges and lemons before they get shipped. The problem is that seasonal work means I am unemployed for most of the year. This project helps me buy food for everyone and for myself.
I was born on August 7, 1993, in Nomathamsanqa, Addo. I moved to Molly Blackburn in 2009. Before that, I was staying with my granny, but when she died, I moved to Molly. My mother has four kids, and I am the second child. I am Xhosa, and I am proud of being Xhosa. I love my culture: the dancing, the traditional ceremonies, the singing.
I also love this project. At first, I was scared. I kept saying to myself, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I had never done anything with my hands. I told myself that I would try. I would try to do these things and other things with my hands, like sewing. It was hard, but I can do it if I believe in myself. I would use my knowledge. Now I am proud of myself. I can even teach others how to make bracelets. Those are my favorites, especially Addo UP and the wooden ones. I like to see my things selling. With the money, I buy groceries, clothes, and airtime, and I get my hair done. I am glad we are being given a chance to become bigger and more successful so that one day I can afford to stop working citrus.
I was born in South Africa on January 17, 1998, and I now live in Molly Blackburn. I love my community, because they are hardworking, kind, and supportive. I live with my mother, my sister, and the child of my mother’s sister. Right now I have a job at the SRCC, a citrus company. I work only a few months a year, because it is seasonal work. We work when the reason is right, but the other months can be difficult. I found out about the crafting project through my mother, who is one of the founding members. I have been crafting for about two years. I have also learned a lot about different types of crafting that I didn't know beforehand.
My favorite project has been beading the bracelets. I love this project because it has helped me support myself. I buy food and save money for school. I want to go back to school one day. My dream is to be an electrical engineer and to have my own house someday. I know some people laugh at my dreams, but they will not stop me. I will work hard, study hard, figure out what I do not know, and make it happen. I am more confident now that it will be true.
The crafters started small, with simple bracelets, but then they taught themselves how to make crocheted hats, and then Molly's Dollies, and then beaded greeting cards, devices to air-dry lingerie, dresses, scarves, and more intricate bracelets. It was crystal clear, early on, that the crafters were driven. They could bead 500 bracelets in two days, learn to knit a simple scarf within an hour, and create 350 dollies for the Molly's Dollies Posse in half a week, all while earning a wage that is three to four times their norm. They also crafted a Code of Conduct for a serious and purposeful business environment.
Ilizwe members know that 100% of the profits are reinvested in the initiative and in local schools. In addition, our sponsors' monthly donations purchase anything from beads to fabric, scissors to rulers, and sewing lessons to business workshops with Xhosa experts. Sponsor dollars also fund crafter participation in classes in creating, pricing, merchandising, marketing, accounting, and inventorying. Sponsors may choose to play a role that goes well beyond financial support, however, and they are encouraged to do so. They may agree to consign items for sale in their hometowns, find a local business to carry wares, or collect items in support of this program.
In an incredible excerpt from the internationally recognized documentary Poverty, Inc., someone cuts to the heart of the issue:
"If I was in a personal financial crisis, and I could not feed my child, I could no longer pay for their school supplies for them to go to school, I didn't have enough money for them to ride the bus, whatever, and somebody from some other nation came in and said, 'Hey, you know what? We've got a solution. What we'll do is we'll set up a house where all the kids that have that problem can come live. They are not going to be your child anymore. You're just gonna have to give them to us, but we will make sure they have everything they need.' Is that the solution that you'd want? I think most honest people would say, 'No, I wanna raise my own child. I just need a job.'"
Brian and Lori Hogan
Chester and Jennifer Bejtlich III
Erik and Kim Kohler
Mary Ellen Lynch and Nicholas Pappas
Tracey McCoy Elliott