Dry, red soil with a few trees linked the scattered homes and buildings into a village called Oodi some 20 kilometres northeast of Gaborone, the capital of the landlocked country of Botswana in southern Africa. A few goats picking at scrubby bushes and children collecting water from a community standpipe offered up nothing unusual by way of a first impression from a half a dozen other similarly sized villages I visited in the region. Oodi was different though.
The Lentswe la Oodi Weavers Community Project started there nearly 40 years ago. Initially organized a Swedish couple Ulla and Peter Gowenius and funded by international organizations such as CUSO the project taught local women how to weave. By the time I visited Oodi in 1979 their tapestries had already become world famous. The weavers focused on scenes from African village life but often incorporated topical elements. Their art became their voice for change and a vehicle for solidarity.
The weavers’ success brought other developments entrain. A well digging project provided water for Oodi. Previously, village women and children had had to walk as far as eight kilometres to draw their daily supply of this necessity. The weaver’s children had the money for uniforms and books, which allowed them to go to school. A viable local source of income made it less pressing that the men of the village migrate to find work in the mines of South Africa.
Mmegionline, the web edition of Botswana’s leading newspaper, ran an article earlier this week on the return visit of now retired Peter Gowenius to the project he had founded with his late wife. In it Gowenius lamented that the lack of on-going education, training to deal with management and marketing issues and of needed capital. These deficits have hampered the Lentswe la Oodi Weaver’s progress. Gowenius worriedly added: “My other fear is that the project will die when these women die, because the skill has not been passed on to young people.”
Development projects have life cycles just like their founders. Some become multi-generational when they successfully take root in the lives of the communities they serve and the communities supporting them. Personal solidarity commitments by a growing number of Yukoners have witnessed a veritable blossoming of Yukon-supported projects in the Global South from Nepal to Swaziland and Haiti, Kenya and Tanzania to the Congo and Colombia.
Yukoner’s active engagement on a multitude of projects provides our territory with valuable lessons and a concept to be taken to heart. True solidarity is a two way street. What has been gained through these intense interactions in the Global South must not fail to influence us and our actions here.
The 19th annual Global Village Craft Fair will take place this year at the Old Fire Hall at the bottom of Main Street on Saturday, November 20 from 11 to 3 p.m. Crafts from self help groups, co-operatives and other Fair Trade providers from a wide array of countries in the Global South will be on sale along with local handiwork. Sales will support the craft producer’s communities as well as the projects of Yukon-based groups such as Fish 4 Kenya, Fair Aid and other advocacy and action organizations like Maiwa, Grandmothers to Grandmothers and Amnesty International.
This Yukon Development Education Centre hosted fair seeks to promote the vision of a just, sustainable, disaster resilient world. Come on by an help celebrate actions building a caring, peaceful world.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.