In early 2017, Qhubeka started a new programme at the Marico Rural Development Project (MRDP) in rural North West called Blankets for Bicycles. Women in the Groot Marico area have the opportunity to earn a bicycle by crocheting two blankets, two scarves and a beanie.
The response to the programme has been enormously positive. Itumeleng Mmapaletsebe-Modutwane (aka Tumi), who has been working at MRDP for 20 years, helps to run the project and says it’s popular because it not only affords women an opportunity to support their families, but to do something they enjoy.
“So far, we have distributed 18 bicycles and we have 20 women signed up for the programme,” she says. “The programme is popular because most women in the community are not working, so they are not earning. There are few activities for women to do here. The ladies enjoy crocheting because they do it together and it gives them a chance to socialise. It also helps with women empowerment. I am passionate about women empowerment, so I hope this project continues!”
The women register with the programme and buy the wool (28 balls in total) and a crochet needle from MRDP. It is sourced at the best price possible and delivered directly to the project, which saves the women from having to travel the long distance to town to search for wool and the correct sized needle themselves. For one bicycle, each woman must crochet enough squares (20cm x 20cm) to create two blankets (each 5 x 7 squares), two scarves (each 1 x 8 squares) and a beanie (using the leftover wool).
“It takes me about a week to crochet one blanket, says Nkwane Mogatusi, one of the women who joined the programme at its start. “I do both scarves and the hat in seven days. I’m looking forward to receiving my bicycle. I’m going to sell exchange it for livestock – goats.”
She explains that she joined the Blankets for Bicycles programme because she wanted to keep herself busy. “It provides something for the women to do here – there is a lot of unemployment,” she says. “It’s my second time getting a bicycle through knitting. I kept the first one. Sometimes I ride it, and sometimes my boys ride it. They are 16 and 25. We use it for shopping and for fun. I am also happy to help the people who the blankets will be given to.”
Julia Moshome says this is her third time in the blanket project. “When I get the third bicycle, I will sell it to pay for school fees and to buy food,” she says. “I have five children. They ride the first bicycle. My youngest son also uses it to get to school. The second bicycle we also sold.”
“I like this programme because it keeps me busy every day and relieves stress. I enjoy crocheting too much! It takes me a about three weeks to make one blanket. I am very proud of the things I have knitted. The best thing about this programme is that it helps us old women. We must be doing something to train our hands.”
The programme continues to grow, and Arno (known locally as Mothusi), who heads up MRDP says he’s struggling to keep up with the demand for wool.
Qhubeka hopes to continue to expand this programme and to roll it out into other areas too.
Qhubeka and MRDP have partnered for the last four years, and the first of Qhubeka’s two bicycle assembly plants is located at MRDP, where men and women from the local community assembly the bicycle components and get the bikes ready for distribution into Qhubeka programmes around South Africa.