Women and children are at the heart of Zienzele sisal baskets, made in Masvingo area of Zimbabwe. Women, working within organized women’s groups, make the baskets to raise money to pay the school fees for those children orphaned by HIV Aids in their community.
The word ‘zienzele’ means to be self-reliant. Rather than depending on handouts or
allowing children to sink into destitution, widowed women and grandmothers work together to give the children a chance.
By 2000, significant numbers of children in Zimbabwe had become heads of households, or were cared for by aging grandparents or struggling widows. Some women in the Masvingo area of Zimbabwe approached nutrionist, Prisca Nemapare, for help. Together with Nancy Clark from Vermont USA, Prisca worked with women to set up the Zienzele Foundation.
The Foundation now boasts 36 women’s groups, engaged in basket making, growing food gardens and sewing school and church group uniforms. The Zienzele basket sales have enabled more than 800 orphaned children to go to school.
Zienzele baskets are made from the fibre extracted from sisal plants. Being very porous, sisal absorbs colour beautifully. The fibre is boiled with flowers, leaves or bark from local plants to give the black, brown and yellow colours. Blue is derived from ink. Synthetic dies are also used. The fibre is twisted into string and then woven onto local grasses to form baskets. The process, from start to finish, is very time consuming (it can take +40 hours to make a basket), but the result is a beautiful product and a child in school.
Blessing Maturi is the fieldworker for the Zienzele Foundation. He collects and transports the baskets to Harare to sell. With his warm patient presence,he spreads the beautiful baskets on the ground and quietly allows customers to choose.
In Zimbabwe, giving a Zienzele basket has become a symbol of wishing a person a long and happy life.