In August 2016, I was fortunate enough to travel to Swaziland, Africa with a group of female designers as a part of Project RAIZ. Over the course of several weeks we met with local leaders, toured established artisan centers, and connected with a group of women who were seeking work. We held workshops that taught the fundamentals of small business and savings, and also did artisan training for jewelry making and painting/metal leaf embellishing. After the training was complete, I hired 7 artists to be a part of my team that would help fulfill orders that I receive back in the US. I use a significant amount of gold and silver leaf embellishment on pieces, and the only way this tedious technique can be executed is by hand. The artisans do a beautiful job with this process, and I am extremely proud of the finished product. During the training, we noticed that many of the women had small children that might create challenges when they were working with their hands, so we have since secured childcare and also provide nourishing meals during their work days, along with generous hourly pay. Since this project started in 2016, the women have all been able to use their wages to send their children to school, buy seeds for planting, set up savings accounts, and several of them have even started to plan their own small businesses with their additional income.
Swaziland is a small country (technically still considered a "Kingdom") in Southern Africa. It has been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and just a few years ago ranked #1 in HIV prevalence per capita, with more than 44% of its citizens infected. These numbers have recently started to dramatically drop with the introduction and mass distribution of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), but the country still bears the scars of this recent epidemic. Many homesteads in Swaziland are led by "Gogos" who are widowed (very young) Grandmothers, who often take in many other children from their village if their biological parents have passed away. Their access to jobs is extremely limited, and most of them do their best to support their large families on less than $1 a day. At this point in time, there is very little tourism and industry that comes to Swaziland, and though many of the Gogos are willing and eager to work, new jobs are hard to come by. Sadly, many of the women end up working in prostitution if they are not able to find other means of work in order to provide for their families. The aim of Project RAIZ is to continue to employ and empower the women in this area by connecting established US Artists with teams like this one to create dignified jobs with excellent work conditions and fair pay.
All Photographs taken by Carly Rudd