After an intense week in Angola we went to the Kingdom of Swaziland, a county that is almost entirely inside South Africa with a population of a bit more than one million people.
It’s one of the five absolute monarchies in the world (the other four are Brunei, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia) and still admits polygamy. Even though Fe maintained the trip with me… So I think it is real love.
According to UNAIDS, 26% of the Swazis between 15 and 49 years old are HIV positive, what places the country among the most affected countries. It’s important to remind that the high contamination rate is directly related to the fact that polygamy is cultural, legal and accepted by the population. That’s why the number of women infected is frighteningly higher than man’s.
We spent sufficient time there to live nice experiences, including sharing the room with cockroaches and a rat (just to seem more cute so my parents don’t obligate me to go back home). But we are in Africa, isn’t it guys? Cockroaches and rats are actually serene compared to what I expected I could encounter (who knows me, is aware of my snake panic and the extensive previous research I’ve made regarding “what to do if I’m bitten by a black mamba”).
Besides the intensive contact with nature, we also had the chance to talk to an anthropologist specialized in the country’s history. The conversation we had was fundamental to understand the dynamics of how people think there, the economy and politics.
It was clear to us that the monarchy system imposed to the population has serious consequences for the country and most part of it happens as the king doesn’t really know the reality of his kingdom. In an absolute monarchy, as it is there, the king has supreme power, rules and overrules whatever whenever. The point here is that his “employees” that are supposed to advise and orient him are not comfortable enough to tell him a certain side of the truth, you know…
In the end to avoid the king getting upset and punishing this “sincere” employee and his family, the best alternative is simply to say everything is going well… always.
Note, King, if you are reading this, I suggest a visit to the rural communities in your country. There are a lot of good people there, but there is also a lot of poverty. And don’t even try to punish me, as this is a friendly advice and if nobody told you that so far, you should revise your friendship list…
-Let’s take a break to request security reinforcement…
But even with so many difficulties, we had the chance to know a social business capable of fulfilling our hearts with hope. It’s called Gone Rural Swaziland.
All started in 1970, when the founder, Jenny Thorne, opened a small store to sell crafts, clothes and antiapartheid books. The business grew and she foresaw an incredible opportunity to make the best out of one of the most abundant natural raw material in the region – grass – and transform it in beautiful handicrafts. It is a special long grass that looks like pasture.
So in 1992 Gone Rural was born with the purpose of empowering women and giving them voice. In order to do that, Jenny created a business model that provides women from rural areas the possibility of earning a monthly income, what was capable to change their realities, completely.
The process is simple. The women collect the grass from a hilly region which is necessary for production and periodically receive the visits from Gone Rural team who collect and weight the grass in exchange of coloured grass ready to be transformed in beautiful craft pieces. The colour composition is pre established and after done the products pass through a quality test.
In the production process there are also recycled materials used and all the raw materials are extracted and processed thinking about the environment. Impossible to be more conscious and ecologically responsible.
The women receive income for the grass collected and afterwards for the final product. As if it wasn’t enough, they also receive classes about micro finance where they learn how to save money and invest it in relevant matters for the family. While the visits happen, the kids play around and other women sell fruits and vegetables. A real meeting and business point for the community.
As a proof of its success, today there are almost 800 women working in the harvest and manufacture of products along 53 communities all around the country.
Now the best part: 100% of the profit obtained is reinvested in favour of the communities. Gone Rural provides a mobile clinic that goes through the groups offering health treatments for free, integrally pays the admission fees for 300 children in school and also make available treated water for more than 8000 people.
During our visit to Lamgabhi, one of the villages supported, I could talk to Mrs. Thimbisile Mthembu, community leader and micro finance teacher for the women. It was fantastic since the beginning.
irst of all the subject is one of my favourite – gender – secondly we were warmly welcomed and lastly the passion and admiration that Thimbisile has for her work, for Gone Rural and for being close to the arising of so many women.
By the end of the day, after Fe passed hours helping to weight the grass – while I was talking to the girls – we shared once again our Think Twice Brasil bracelet that we brought in a format of a popular Brazilian adornment. We give to people who are part of our experiences as a gratitude gesture. In that moment it became a celebration. But a women celebration type, you know? I was laughing loud and all the women were going crazy every time I said they should make three wishes while I gave the knots. It was the proof the woman loves gifts – mainly I do – and that we get along very well even without speaking the same language. Having an open heart is enough. The video below shows a bit of all of these.
When it was time to say good bye, we thanked them all and out of nowhere I received a kind huge with the phrase: “That’s my sister”.
I had to hold myself together not to cry, got into the car and made the calculations of how much would cost to buy 75 Gone Rural crafts to take to Brazil. Then I remembered that in my bag there is no room even for makeup, even less for a handicraft vase of 130cm. It was sad as it’s all so beautiful. Practicing detachment.
But I had already won what I needed: Energy and inspiration to keep up with the trip. With the heart full of love and the mind full of ideas. Besides the secret plan of exporting Gone Rural to Brazil.
Who would like to contribute to the project can donate directly through their website (http://goneruralswazi.com/). You can also buy products, it’s just necessary to send an email requesting further instructions regarding how to send to your country. It’s worth it.
Thank you all who was part of this experience, specially to Toby Allison for the warm welcome and for the cooking class, to Marc for making our Gone Rural visit possible and to Thabile Masuko for taking us through the tour in the production location.