What is meant by a sustainable livelihood? A household’s livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from economic setbacks and maintain or improve its means of living now and in the future. The average person in Europe sees it as being able to buy the children the latest trainers for school and to invest wisely in their education. For many Zimbabweans a livelihood is the means to afford one square meal a day, never mind where the next one will come from.
At international exhibitions where I market my products, well-fed and well-dressed people come up and ask if I pay a fair price for what I design. What’s a fair price? In Zimbabwe we don’t even have a currency that is our own. How do you begin to explain? Do we set the price we pay the artist in a stable currency like the greenback so that he or she won’t lose out when Zimbabwe heads towards another hyperinflationary hell? Yes, we do.
In France where my husband and I spend a lot of time exhibiting our products, customers ask if I make everything they see. I have to hold back a snigger. In a shop filled with more than 400 references a small heron sells for 35 euros. Imagine! I smile and talk about the amazing people we work with in Zimbabwe, and if I’m feeling a little sarcastic, I tell them, ‘If I made that heron myself as a European taxpayer, it would cost you 200 euros.’
The UNDP and other development agencies have their ways of calculating poverty levels and how much people in Africa need to live on. The reality we work with in Zimbabwe is on the streets, literally. The children who benefit from our feeding programmes and schooling initiatives are growing up on the streets of Harare with little or no shelter, dodgy family lives and almost no food. Do we make them work their way out of poverty? Silly question. All I have ever wanted for my three kids is the same as I want for the hundreds of children we come across – a safe place to grow up in, food in their tummies, clothes on their backs and decent education to whichever level they want to aim for.
We involve children of all ages and from all backgrounds in design activities and recycling and craft workshops. That helps to break down income, ethnic and cultural barriers and promotes learning and understanding in ways that classrooms can’t. And through play and touch, talking and laughing, it’s also a way to identify children with poor health or malnutrition. The carers of these children, the remarkable men and women who want to be a part of their protection and advancement, are the people we work with on the livelihood initiatives. Indeed, the children might sit with us adults and string beads onto a wire that becomes part of a beaded gecko that gets sold in Europe. But at the same time they eat with us, play with us and learn. Is that child labour or is it being a part of a caring community project that is building a sustainable future?