Craft NPO to shut doors

Iziko Lo Lwazi on the Hout Bay Common.

Iziko Lo Lwazi, one of Hout Bay’s most popular non-profit organisations, will be closing its doors at the end of October.

The learning centre which has specialised in crafts and paper-making for almost two decades has lost its key sponsor, marking it “exceedingly tough” to remain open, according to Debbie Soll, chairperson of the Iziko Lo Lwazi board.

The centre was founded by Hout Bay resident Jean Fairhead in 1998. Initially it offered an adult literacy programme in Imizamo Yethu, but Ms Fairhead quickly realised that there was a need to combine education with earning power, as participants needed to put food on the table.

A decision was taken to introduce paper-making as a skill, and with the assistance of donors the organisation grew exponentially, moving out of Imizamo Yethu and onto the grounds of the Hout Bay Community Cultural Centre on Hout Bay Common.

In recent years, it has been home to talented crafters making paper products and beading, whose works have been highly sought after by the hospitality industry. “The fact is that 90% of the income generated goes to the crafter, so without our key sponsor it has been difficult for the organisation to keep afloat,” Ms Soll said this week.

“We are in a tough economy at the moment, so it is with a heavy heart that we are having to close our doors. It is a very sad thing for a community that is desperately in need of upskilling for its residents.”

The centre currently employs two salaried staff, a centre-co-ordinator and paper-maker, while five crafters are enrolled in the programme. Ms Soll said in previous years the rental had been at a level the organisation could afford, but the hospitality sector, which purchased items such as cards and gifts produced at Iziko Lo Lwazi, was also going through a difficult time financially.

In 2003, the US government provided a grant which enabled the organisation to be equipped with a paper-pulping machine, which proved to be the spark for Iziko Lo Lwazi’s success in later years.

The board was looking at what could be done with this machine, Ms Soll said. She said the board was also determined that participants in the programme were paid a fair wage commensurate with their talents.

“Obviously we would love it if someone came to the table offering to assist us in keeping our doors open. We have always been an order-driven operation. We had a fabulous June last year, with about 12 or 13 crafters participating to meet demand. We could always count on our crafters to come in when there was a demand.

“They are all fabulous people. We obviously have told them we are closing, but we are trying to get them other placements in which they can earn a living.” Jocelyn Isaacs, who has been employed as centre co-ordinator for five years, said she “never thought this day would come”. “At Iziko Lo Lwazi, no two days are ever the same.

Crafters come into the centre, and you can immediately see the difference on their faces. And it is just amazing to see how far crafters have come since they first started with us,” she said. While Ms Soll said the organisation had been following the proposal to place a community day care health clinic on the Hout Bay Common, but the decision to close had ultimately been an economic one.