The women have been connected with a market in Johannesburg, South Africa. Representatives from five different companies based in South Africa will come to Eswatini to discuss potential business partnerships. 

By Inside Biz

With the support of the European Union (EU), the International Trade Centre (ITC), and the Government of Eswatini, a group of 10 women has taken training on basic screen-printing and product design skills with the Yebo Art Gallery.  

The women, who were previously unemployed and come from one of the remotest parts of the country, took a bold decision to establish a cooperative at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Siyaphambili – a word that means ‘moving forward – is a handicraft cooperative that aims to create jobs for women through the production of artisan goods, to help improve their livelihoods. Until now they have been limited to a select few handicraft lines, including grass baskets and other traditional products. They have had little control over price setting and no financial management system in place to monitor losses and profit.  

The Handicraft Department under the Eswatini Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade identified and recommended Siyaphambili as a good candidate to participate and benefit from the EU-funded project “Eswatini: Promoting growth through competitive alliances”, implemented by ITC as part of the EU continued support on changing and improving the lives of Eswatini’s most vulnerable communities. 

Speaking at their certification award ceremony, Gcwalisile Dikiza, the official representative of the group, shared that, after following the intensive 20-day course on design and basic screen-printing, Siyaphambili is motivated to prepare fresh, modern designs that make efficient use of available resources.  

“We thank the EU, ITC, and the Eswatini Government for enabling this initiative. We feel that this training can help improve our performance and our income if we apply it well. We also thank Yebo Art Gallery for sharing their skills with us. We plan to pass on this gift of knowledge to our community, including unemployed youth looking for opportunities to grow,” she said.

The training at Yebo Art Gallery was facilitated by Pete Armstrong, who boasts close to 50 years in contemporary art alongside Aleta Armstrong. Pete said the women exceeded their expectations, and four of them received distinctions in their screen-printing test.  

“They are not just creating products, but they are also telling stories about Eswatini through their designs,” he said.  

Asked if the women can afford to buy resources going forward such as ink for their printing work, Armstrong responded positively.

“They can buy ink through us and everything can be recycled. For instance, 1kg of ink cost about E150, and with that, they can produce an entire tablecloth. We also use environmentally-friendly ink. They don’t need to buy all the colours as they now have the skills to create new colours through mixing techniques.” 

EU Head of Cooperation Alessia Bursi was impressed by the quality of the work that the women have produced and the overall progress of the project.

“This ongoing program is a great example of the kind of support the EU seeks to provide to the people of Eswatini. In the next 2-3 years, we would like to witness a concrete impact on communities, hear about how this program has improved their lives, and how Eswatini is taking better advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement that the EU has with the Southern African Development Community (SADC)” she said. 

The EU has been supporting Eswatini for over 50 years, and this support has made a marked difference in the lives of the most vulnerable people in Eswatini.

Maphevu Dlamini, from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade under the Handicraft Department thanked the EU, ITC, and Yebo Art Gallery for working with Eswatini Government in assisting women, especially from rural areas.

“We are going deep in rural areas to try and help people, especially women. It is a hard job for us to do, but one that has been made easier through this EU and ITC project. This training has offered these women a skill that they have actively embraced. Knowledge is a gift that keeps on giving, if fostered and shared across communities and generations”, he said.

Meanwhile, ITC’s National Coordinator, Musa Maseko, shared that the certification event was a proud moment for them and that he is grateful for the partnerships that enabled this result. He also shared exciting new plans for market development:

“We have connected the Siyaphambili group with a market in Johannesburg, South Africa. Representatives from five different companies based in South Africa will come into Eswatini to discuss potential business partnerships.” 

Another successful result is an order of 40 samples of doll baskets.

“The aim is to create a positive impact for the group and their families,” said Maseko. New artisan skills combined with market development support is the goal of the operation, to improve the livelihoods of Siyaphambili, its surrounding communities, and Eswatini’s population at large.”

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