In addition to the magnificent wildlife and spectacular natural scenery, guests visiting the Amakhala Game Reserve and surrounding reserves in the Paterson area of the Eastern Cape also enjoy a little-known treasure: the Amakhala Craft Centre and Art Gallery.
Located in a spacious, charmingly rustic building that once served as an old sheep shearing shed, the Amakhala Craft Centre and Art Gallery offers visitors a unique, handcrafted range of beautiful beaded articles, sewing, embroidery and printed items, as well as arts and crafts such as candles and elephant dung paper, and produce from local herb and vegetable gardens and an indigenous nursery.
It also showcases original art by Justine and Michael Weeks, local artists who are also owners of The Safari Lodge, co-owners of the Amakhala Game Reserve and trustees of the Amakhala Foundation.
The Amakhala Craft Centre and Art Gallery originated after Justine assisted Feziwe Keye, one of her local employees, after she had been retrenched from her job as a clothing factory seamstress following 30 years of service. Justine realised that Feziwe’s sewing skills could benefit not only the Reserves, but also the Amakhala Foundation and the surrounding local community.
While Feziwe initially worked from Justine’s home, the project soon became the first poverty relief/ income-generating project of the Amakhala Foundation, a non-profit organisation established in 2009 as an umbrella for the Amakhala Game Reserve’s community and conservation projects. Committed to building strong communities, families and individuals in the rural and conservation context in which Amakhala Game Reserve is located, the Foundation is funded by donations and bed levies from commercial lodges.
Justine liaised with other lodges in the Amakhala Game Reserve, who collectively supported the new enterprise by ordering furnishings, staff uniforms, guest dressing gowns and curio shop items – including fabric toys and fabric place mats - from Feziwe, who has now been running her own sewing business at the Reserve for 10 years. The lodges also support the project by taking their guests to visit the craft centre, which opened in June 2009, as well as by stocking the art and craft items made at souvenir shops at their lodges.
Feziwe Keye and some of the soft toys she sews for the Amakhala Craft Centre.
The beaded items are made by a group of local women working from their homes, as well as two local women who work at the Centre twice a week to make beaded necklaces. Unemployed community members can also generate income through the Craft Centre, where their locally-made crafts are sold. In this way, the Amakhala Craft Centre and Art Gallery contributes to the creation of employment and the generation of income of the impoverished local community.
In addition, beaded bracelets made by the teenagers of the iSipho Charity Trust in nearby Paterson are also sold at the Craft Centre. Through the iSipho Charity Trust Beaded Bracelet Bursary Project, young local women gather weekly for craft workshops, making beaded bracelets which are sold at the Craft Centre. A quarter of the sales price goes to a tertiary education bursary fund, and the girls also earn a percentage of the profit to use for toiletries and other items they cannot otherwise afford.The workshops are facilitated by committee members of the Amakhala Foundation and trustees of the iSipho Charity Trust. Extra help comes from the Amakhala volunteers who give freely of their time as part of the Amakhala Volunteer programme.
Sylvia Solani, Centre Manager for the Amakhala Craft Centre, also produces Rhinos and Ribbons - the rhino medals for the winners of different categories of the Rhino Run at Texas Christian University held in March. She makes almost 100 medals for the event each year and some runners take part just for the chance of winning a hand-beaded rhino!
Local crafts on sale at the Craft Centre provide income-generating opportunities for the Paterson community.
In this video, meet Sylvia as she speaks about the difference the Amakhala Craft Centre has made in her life and the lives of so many other community members.