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Robben Island history and heritage inspires CDI skills training project

30 November 2017   (0 Comments)
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The Robben Island Museum has established a Community Beneficiation Craft Development Centre that will sell souvenirs and memorabilia made from materials that originate from the island and are inspired by its history. As part of the project, the CDI was appointed by the Museum to conduct skills training for 16 potential craft producers who were selected by the museum.

 

The training, which was facilitated by our Business Development team, took place over 16 days, and it was designed to introduce participants to the basics of starting and managing a small business. This included some of our flagship workshops such as Marketing and Business Communications as well as Costing and Pricing.

The training also included a visit to Robben Island to introduce the group, specifically those not living on the island, to the history and context of the project, and to allow them to familiarise themselves with the materials they could use for products. They also spent time in our Product Prototyping Facility where they used the different tools and technologies available to develop new and unique products which included jewellery, artworks, dishtowels and serviettes, hand-poured candles and crocheted products.

According to CDI Creativity Facilitator and project manager for the training Mara Fleischer, each product is a vehicle to telling a very reflective story of the past on Robben Island.

“The emphasis of the project was to develop market-relevant products that tell the incredibly profound stories of Robben Island. The process of working with the group brought many untold stories to light as well as unresolved issues that were worked through in the making process,” said Mara.

The participants were also introduced to soap-making to help those who didn’t have a particular skill to participate in the process of making a market-ready product. This led to three of the participants, Vuyokazi Shezi, Nosiseko Sindiswa and Evelyn Makwela, who are ex-political prisoners’ spouses, to create a range of soaps, inspired by their husbands’ stories about prison life on the island. There is a beautifully made soap in the shape of a tennis ball that tells the story of how the political prisoners used to ‘accidentally’ throw tennis balls across walls to send information from one section to another. Another soap is shaped like a mielie pap ball – reminiscent of when prisoners working as cooks acted as information couriers by passing on messages rolled in a tight ball made from mielie pap.

“The group were inspired by the motto ‘Each One Teach One’ that was developed by the political prisoners on the Island – where they would each share their own knowledge and skills with their fellow inmates. So, during the training they also shared their skills such as beading and crocheting with each other,” said Mara.

“One participant was reluctant to share her ability to crochet because it had a painful memory attached to it – reminding her of how she and the other prisoners’ wives used to teach each other to crochet while waiting for a ferry to visit their husbands. Many times, they had to wait for days and then be sent back home without getting to see their husbands because of bad weather conditions.  But now – after going through this 16-day process, she can’t stop crocheting stunning products.”

Some feedback from the group:

Muhle Kutta developed a range of fine jewellery using sand in transparent tubes and painting shells from the beach to reflect the natural environment of Robben Island: “When I first started the training I did not know what it would entail. I only came because I have passion. As time went on I discovered that I could do something with my hands that will benefit other people.”

Phillip Mbusi made a range of memorabilia from wire such as sunglasses, a prison master key and a pack of hand-made playing cards, similar to those made by the political prisoners: “I learned a lot about Robben Island that I never knew before. I’ve also learned that you can actually use craft products to tell stories about Robben Island and inspire people.”

Rashieda Mali made bags printed with the names of the political prisoners, photos of the Rivonia trialists and the prisoners’ letters: “I love this project and I learned so many things. We had never been to Robben Island but now we have seen everything and learned about the history. We are so excited that we are going to producing crafts and souvenirs for the tourists that tell a rich story...”

Evelyn Makwela, wife of an ex-political prisoner on Robben Island: “I cannot thank the CDI enough for showing me the value of my skills and the opportunities it has offered me, as well as the implicit belief in myself’. 


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