Today, we flew back to Durban bright and early so that we could spend the day with Jabu, a beadworker with the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. The Centre is located in the town of Hillcrest, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. The region has the dubious honour of having the highest HIV prevalence rate in South Africa, in a the country with the highest number of people living with HIV worldwide.
Jabu, 37, is a mother of four who lives in Molweni, a township on the outskirts of Hillcrest, in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. She first heard of Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust nearly eight years ago, after meeting a home-based care worker who had come to visit a neighbour.
Jabu was referred to the Centre for counselling, and was soon linked up with Hillcrest’s income-generation project. Paula Thompson, Hillcrest’s Income Generation coordinator, had started a small beadwork project. Women from the community were referred to her to learn a skill – such as beading or quilting – and were given the materials to start creating AIDS ribbons, necklaces and tiny beaded dolls which became known as ‘Little Travellers’.
News about the intricate beadwork being done by women at Hillcrest began to spread, and soon Little Travellers began cropping up in countries around the world. The programme has grown exponentially, and Hillcrest had to create a special store – the Woza Moya shop – to sell their wares. Today, the programme employes nearly 250 crafters on a regular basis, and can call on up to 800 crafters in the community when there are large orders to fill.
For women like Jabu, Hillcrest’s income-generation programme has been a transformative experience. As a single mother of four, she was struggling to provide for her family when she first came to the centre. Today, she proudly displays her work and shows us around the home she’s created with the money from her job as a beader. Jabu even developed her own version of a Little Traveller – a woman carrying a load of firewood on her head, symbolizing the burdens that so many women must bear.
Each Friday, she brings her work to the centre to be sold, and meets and talks with the other beaders. They have become a kind of extended family over the years – comforting each other in times of need, working together and sharing stories and laughter.
For Jabu, Hillcrest is about more than beading. She has been working over the last few years to build her skills. She trained and was certified as a home-based care worker and a counsellor, and now works in her community caring for her neighbours and counselling them in their homes.
Jabu was one of the first women in the craft worker programme to be open about her status, says Paula. She has inspired other women to open up about their own lives and begin to talk openly about HIV. For those around her, she is a role model of what it means to live positively. “I tell them, ‘You see me – don’t worry about me. I’m already positive,” Jabu says. By showing people that you can be a proud, active and productive member of the community, Jabu is helping to erode the stigma that often surrounds the virus.
I asked Jabu what she wants most. “To be a social worker or a nurse,” she says. “That is my dream. I want to help people.”