KU students get involved in charity work in South Africa

Wola Nani – Design that makes a difference

Wola Nani, a South African HIV/AIDS charity, has teamed up with Kingston University on a design project that aims to generate income for women living with the deadly disease.

Established in 1994, Wola Nani – Xhosa for ‘we embrace and develop one another’ – is an NGO based in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town.  The charity operates a range of services, involving safer sex education, community outreach campaigns and counselling.  The current community project headed by Wola Nani involves local women making various household items, such as papier mache bowls, which are sold both locally and internationally.  This provides a vital income for these women to support themselves and their families in a country where, at the last estimate, 10.8 per cent of all people over the age of two were believed to have the disease. 

Simon Maidment, the University’s product and furniture design course leader, established this partnership following a research trip to South Africa.  Seeing the lack of employment opportunities for these women first-hand encouraged him to help, and he saw his background in design as an ideal way to get involved. 

He said: “The product is manufactured in a way that is both affordable and reliable.”  Designing these products and teaching others how to make them has become a positive way to respond to the devastating reality of the illness that he witnessed.

The University began the work two years ago, as part of Project Kingston Africa, which aims to increase awareness of students of the reality of life in Africa.  Project Kingston has formed a strong relationship with academics and curators, a network that allows for interaction between both countries and, particularly, the creative community within this University.

Jess Sims, former MA student in Curating Contemporary Design here, was involved in the recent Tent London exhibition, an annual show that runs alongside the London Design Festival.  Jess believes that KU’s participation in the exhibition, which includes work of over 50 current MA students, has  allowed them to see the benefit that their work has on the lives of those that Wola Nani helps.  

Ms Sims said: “The exhibition supplied all of the students who were involved a creative opportunity to learn about another culture and see first-hand the benefits which design can have on the world.  Using the exhibition to drum up interest in the UK towards the charity was a great chance to work towards this expansion of the organisation. “

This project is one of a handful that the organisation runs in partnership with others, allowing for skills development among those living with HIV/AIDS.  Unemployment is extremely high in the region and discrimination against sufferers remains rife throughout the country.  The money raised helps women to overcome their anxiety of everyday struggles, such as feeding their children. 

Portia, a 23-year-old who has been working with Wola Nani’s Magpie project, explained the fear and worry she experienced when her boyfriend abandoned her: “I was desperate.  I had one child and now two children.  My boyfriend refused to pay for the baby.  I got involved with Magpie through Wola Nani.  It changed my life.  With the money I made I moved to my own house.  I’m getting my life together.”

The University is continuing its positive relationship with the charity throughout the year and hoping to involve other students in the Kingston Africa Project. 

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