Seventy-seven-year-old Grace Ngwenya has an eye for detail. She sits in the sunshine and effortlessly weaves palm fronds into beautiful baskets.
Her actions are swift yet methodical as she twirls, straightens and tugs the long palm strands into a fine weave. From time to time, she pauses and dips her fingers in a shallow tin of water. Then she wets the fronds to make them pliable. Slowly, a basket takes shape. When she has decided on the shape and colour, she works for seven days straight to complete the task.
Mrs. Ngwenya lives in Shabula village in Matabeleland North Province, 170 kilometres from Bulawayo. If the quality of her basket is high, she carefully packs it and sends it to buyers all over the world. She earns about US$50 a month.
It all started in 1997, when a few women got together to make baskets and other crafts. They sold them to tourists along the highway from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls.
In 2004, the women established the Lupane Women’s Centre, or LWC. At the time, they had just 14 registered members. A decade later, the group has more than 3,500 members. Many earn US$50 a month from selling their crafts, some even more.
LWC helps women tackle the twin problems of earning an income and hunger. They earn a decent wage and preserve a traditional skill through the basket-weaving enterprise. The women also invest the profits of their creativity in sustainable farming.
Hildegard Mufukare is the manager at LWC. She believes this project is helping some women find “peace in the home.” Mrs. Mufukare says, “Women have bought assets from farm implements to cattle, they have taken up agricultural activities, and are working together with the men to sustain their families.”
Siduduzile Nyoni joined the co-operative in 2008. Mrs. Nyoni says: “[When] I joined the centre … I didn’t know how to weave.” The mother of three says that the simple act of weaving baskets has helped her build a lifeline for times of crisis. She bought a goat, and maintains a chicken farm and a thriving vegetable garden.
Mrs. Nyoni and three other women created their own micro-savings scheme. She is doing well enough to support her family—her husband is unemployed.
Lisina Moyo joined LWC in 2012. She now earns US$15 a month from her vegetable patch. She pays her children’s school fees and contributes to a savings club that keeps her afloat during harsh times. She says gardens “should be a part of every home.”
Mrs. Ngwenya bought a goat and built a fence around her garden. She points to a half-built house not far from where she sits. She says: “Weaving has transformed my life, even in my old age. This year sales have been slow but, God willing, my house should be complete by next year. I have already bought the windows and I will plaster and paint it myself.”
To read the full article on which this story was based, Zimbabwean women weave their own beautiful future, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/zimbabwean-women-weave-their-own-beautiful-future/ 
Main photo credit: Busani Bafana/IPS