By Serena Sato, Sales & Marketing Director
“Perfect! You can join us for field visits,” replied Richard Freemantle, head of our partner
Tintsaba, as we planned our time in Swaziland. Intrigued, we readily agreed and welcomed
the opportunity to meet several women who weave their intricate baskets. Early one morning
in March, Sarah Wilcox and I piled into Richard’s car and bounced our way around what we
decided was most of northern Swaziland. Swaziland is only 120 miles long by 80 miles wide!
(It turned out that the term “field visits” was quite literal. We would pull over to predetermined
meeting places either along the road or under a nearby tree!) We followed the route
of other Tintsaba staff who were busily paying artisans for their baskets, dropping off sisal
supplies and orders, answering questions, and checking in. A mobile health clinic was also
part of the caravan—offering the women private, free access to basic health care. It was a
great experience for us to see these relationships and benefits.
In Swaziland, official estimates are that 26% of adults have HIV and most of them
also have untreatable tuberculosis, and more than 20% of children are orphans due to
disease and poverty. Basket weaving offers women the rare and vital opportunity to
earn cash income that they most often use for their children’s school fees. Sales of their
baskets also enables them to care for their children or grandchildren while they work.
They are paid fairly, offered paid maternity leave, and given classes ranging from
household budgeting to nutrition. More than 700 women weave baskets for Tintsaba
using a unique skill that has been traced back 400 years. We are proud to carry their
baskets in the US and to be one of their largest customers.
Sarah and I also visited Serrv partner Turqle Trading in South Africa, and met
many of the farmers and workers who make their delicious food items. We saw chilli
farms, salt flats, and several facilities where the ingredients are processed into their
finished food items at the highest global standards of food safety and quality.
A highlight was our visit to Workshops Unlimited, an organization providing life and skills training for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. One of their sources of income and education is to create the beaded tassels and wire caps for Turqle Trading’s products.
South Africa has made tremendous strides since the time of apartheid, but unemployment is rampant at 36-48%, depending on who you ask. In addition, more than 40% of the population is under the age of 24 and half of them are unemployed. For these reasons, Turqle Trading focuses on providing in-country employment and invests in education by giving 2.5% of every sale to an education trust to help all of their workers’ children attend good schools.
In 2016, Serrv donated to this trust to build education opportunities for South Africans.