vendredi 18 janvier 2008

Information about the Kopenang Community Trust

The following document is further information written by Dominican sister Sheila Flynn about the KOPANANG COMMUNITY TRUST.
Do visit the Trust's website to learn more about their work.

April and May, 2001, saw the inception of the Kopanang Women’s Group – women choosing to walk a courageous journey of learning and training, implementing their own transformation in the process. If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step (Lao Tse), then these women have surely traversed continents in the pursuit of their own self-discovery and self-worth. A not insignificant step, given the legacy they are heir to. Rev. Margot Campbell Gross from the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco was an integral part of our humble beginnings.
Kopanang members comprise women from two historically divided communities – the African township of Tsakane (population approximately 72,000), and the so-called coloured township of Geluksdal (population approximately 7,000), and come from diverse religious backgrounds, but all Christian – though we would be open to non-Christian women. We were told that it had been tried many times, bringing these two groups ethnic groups together, and it had failed. We were not daunted. We are proof that it can work.
These two townships are set within the barren and unyielding landscape of the Far East Rand, about 55km from the centre of Johannesburg. They were set up to provide the labour force for the mines and factories in the area, both of which have subsequently closed down, escalating the poverty and unemployment endemic in the area (around 80%), and the pandemic impact of HIV/AIDS on the communities. We now have the specter of an untreatable TB strain worsening conditions and accelerating death. Weddings as a cause for gatherings, have given way to funerals.
Kopanang is on the site of the Sithand’izingane Care Project, a community-driven initiative made up of volunteers caring and serving in a variety of ways: a drop-in day-care centre for HIV affected and vulnerable children (35) up to six years of age; an after-school care programme for 55 orphans; an organic food garden training programme; crisis food distribution to 150 families; a counseling centre; a feeding scheme for 400 orphans in the township schools five times a week. Kopanang is the income generating wing for the mothers and grannies of the area. Kopanang means, gathering together. Sithand’izingane is a Zulu word meaning, “we love the children”.
Kopanang is about more than putting food on the table. Our work is about relationships. It is about wonder and creativity in the midst of struggle and poverty, the sharing of stories, faith and differing cultural identities, building understanding between each other. Lack of human rights or values, within a context of voicelessness, depression and lethargy, unemployment and diminishment are countered by human resource development and support.
The embroidery section (60 members are now highly skilled) produce high quality, vibrantly-coloured embroidered products such as wall hangings, waistcoats, cushion covers, bags, skirts, aprons, caftans and church stoles. Members teach new members in a cycle of empowerment, with ever widening circles. They have now also provided facilitated training to six other projects, two in the Free State (Kroonstad and Welkom), one in Mpumalanga (KwaNdebele) and three in Gauteng (Devon, Etwe-Twe and some leadership support to a project in Ivory Park). We have already undertaken in March 2006 a training programme for 25 HIV+ adolescents and 27 grannies at the Mildmay International Centre in Uganda, and provide ongoing marketing support for our sisters in the Vukani Poverty Alleviation project in Mpumalang. We are now looking to extend training opportunities to women in Ivory Park township, and Hlabisa in KZN. Truly, Kopanang is extending its borders.
Less than six years ago these pioneer women did not believe in themselves, nor did they expect too much from life, just the merest scrapings to feed their children if they were lucky, often at the neglect of themselves. Not a lot to beg for from life. Now, through their endeavours and own experience of transformation, they believe in both themselves and in a better life. They are shaping it. The group has fluctuating members – often due to sickness, sometimes death.
One of Kopanang’s primary objectives is to provide loving support to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and to this end each member contributes in some way to dealing with this issue either in her family, or close neighbourhood. Each year we have a dedicated HIV/AIDS educational workshop. We also have yearly workshops on communication (to develop relationships and continue working on conflict resolution, etc.) and leadership workshops.
It is not an easy road. Development is fraught with frustration and setbacks. The grind to get beyond the concept of entitlement which is corrosive to the spirit and culture of individualism, so closely aligned to the negative spirit, or to develop the structures of a sustainable future in the project, are experiences which need to be met head on. Also the experience of lethargy and depression breed hopelessness. They have been used to only living in the moment and often very dark one. The sheer hard work and commitment it takes to move beyond the boundaries of endemic despair or the experience of worthlessness common to township life, is daunting. Yet Kopanang women are determined to shape the future of their lives and their families.
Kopanang products now find a home in the United States, Germany, Ireland, England, Holland, Belgium and Australia. In November, 2002, two members traveled to San Francisco to install an incredible body of work measuring over 35 metres long, depicting the story of the Universe and evolution (Universe Canticle), exhibited in Johannesburg at the MTN Head Office before leaving the country. The Faithful Fools organisation who commissioned this work were taken away by the splendour of the work, far exceeding their expectations, considering themselves guardians of the work. This series is now available for any organisation to borrow for exhibition and educational purposes – it is an educational tool in itself – and has traveled to five States in America, including Atlanta for a two-month long exhibition at the VSA Gallery in 2004, North Carolina and Minneapolis in 2005, and among others is another tour to Detroit at the end of 2006. We have provided 15 large wall hangings for Oprah Winfrey’s new school for girls in Johannesburg. Such is the ripple effect of a small group who through their creativity, defy boundaries and despair.
We have extended the diversity of our product range and a dedicated group within the membership are now creating exquisite African quilted products. We have also introduced bead training and members are now creating beautiful beaded jewelry and homeware. Our embroidery group have had commissions to create Church cloths and banners in Australia, major wall hangings for corporate institutions (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ) as well as a banner for the Catholic Theological Society of America’s 60th anniversary conference. Kopanang members have also created a magnificent banner commissioned by the University of South Africa, for their African Spirituality Conference which was held in January 2006, attended by many African countries. We are glad to have at least one of Kopanang’s beautiful embroidered panels residing in South Africa itself.
In 2004 our Kopanang women created eight banners (3 metres x 1 meter each) on World Religions for the First Universalist Church in San Francisco. These larger commissions provide not only support for our members but a huge challenge, broadening their own development and knowledge base. Most of our members have not had the opportunity to complete their education, often as a result of poverty. This kind of learning extends their value in themselves and their worldview. Most recently members created a “Dikeledi Cloth” from a Kopanang circle of love, breaking open the story of their lives and suffering and creating a patchwork cloth to visualize this experience.
At our Kopanang Children’s art class facilitated by one of our mothers, Nancy, our children completed and sent off a body of work, including a portfolio of prints, to the Paint Pals International Exhibition at the Museum of Children’s Art in Athens, for the duration of the last Olympics, and its director, Linden Longino has now invited our youngsters to participate in the China Olympics. In July 2007 a new body of work was exhibited at Parliament in Sydney as part of an international exhibition, winning its international award.
We are truly proud to have been able to open a forth unit, our screen-printing section. New members are being initiated into this new creative artform. A newly acquired etching press will provide opportunities to develop printmaking. We print onto material as well as do occasional runs of cards, e.g. Christmas, or Seasonal Greetings. We will be expanding this unit in 2008.
Ours is a unique opportunity to be a prophetic voice to the unheard millions who live their lives less than they are able, simply because of the “accident” of birth or race, compounded by the awful prevalence of HIV/AIDS. We believe our project is strong because of its multi-dimensional, relational faith approach and community ethos. Even if our contribution is but a drop in the ocean of need in these two townships, drops eventually create lakes, rivers and oceans.
Together, Kopanang and Sithand’izingane Care Project members are restoring hope and beauty in a future which has now become welcoming instead of threatening. We expect a lot from each other. We are confident that we shall receive what we hope for, knowing that our God has placed these dreams into our hearts. For that reason alone, we know that they will come to fruition.
We are so grateful for your life-giving support. May God bless you.

Sister Sheila Flynn
Vice-Chair and Coordinator for Kopanang Community Trust

Registration No: 5144/2006 NPO No: 056-245
P O Box 10268, Geluksdal 1546, South Africa
Phone/Fax: 27 11 738 9306
Project email:

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