Amidst poverty and hopelessness, over 90 women in Keetmanshoop have found survival in sewing bags and making crafts for Karas Huisen Craft.
Karas Huisen Craft is an income generating project founded in 2004 to uplift women who were either affected by or infected with HIV but has now grown into a project open to supporting single and disadvantaged mothers in the Karas Region.
The project is run by a board of directors composed of five members, with the Reverend Andreas Biwa as the head.
“After realising that there was a dire need for employment in the region, the project was started with funding from the Czech Republic but became self-sustainable from 2009,” says the trustee of the project, Katerina Verchusa.
Petra Haubas, a single mother in her 30s, credits Karas Huisen Crafts (Hui-sen means “help yourself” in the Nama language) for giving her an opportunity to make something out of her life.
“Since I joined the project at its beginning, I have been able to earn a monthly salary, which has enabled me to support myself and my children. Before then, I had been jobless for years. I am specialised in sewing bags and I now train newcomers who join us,” Haubas points out.
Karas Huisen Craft offers training in sewing, bead and needle work. Currently, they also make school uniforms and t-shirts that are distributed to schools in Keetmanshoop as well as overalls for the Keetmanshoop and Mariental municipalities.
They also make bags from different durable materials. The bags are decorated with beads and ostrich egg shells. In addition, they design and make jewellery using traditional beads from Karas. Their earring designs range from colourful Nama designs to elegant patterns.
Given the fact that northern Namibia is famous for beautiful wild parks, the women also make handmade animal toys such as giraffes, rhinos and elephants using the patchwork technique of matching materials. These are sold to children and tourists. Their prices range from N$50 to N$200 a piece.
Another single mother, Hilde Nyemba, has also managed to earn a living through the project. She can now support her family and three orphaned children.
However, with the drying up of funds from the Czech Republic in 2009, the project has been facing monetary problems to cover some expenses. They, however, have applied for a Government subsidy.
“The profits generated from the sales of the crafts and uniforms do not always cover the costs of transport and the ongoing production and sustainability,” Verchusa says.
She further stresses that the project has managed to support the project members’ families to always get medical assistance.
A kindergarten was also started in order to take care of the workers’ children.
“We have all become a family and are always there for each other; we support each other through good and bad times. We even have pastors who give us moral support,” Haubas adds.
The project, which is unique in the whole of Karas Region, is determined to keep growing despite the current challenges.
Its products are mostly found in the Karas Region but are also sold in Windhoek at the Craft Centre in the central business district (CBD) while some products are also sold in Czech Republic.
The project is currently exploring possibilities to expand its existence into other European countries.