Crafts for Development
Registered in May 2003, Umcebo Trust is a public benefit NGO that has established inclusive studio workspace for unemployable people with special needs in Durban. The Trust develops and utilises the artistic talents of people with physical and mental disabilities as a means of personal, creative and financial development.
Umcebo Trust was established with the view to assist people from predominantly impoverished and disadvantaged communities to generate a reliable income. The organisation achieves this by facilitating the creation of unique artworks and functional craft items using a combination of reclaimed waste and other materials.
When he first established the Trust, Founder and Director, Robin Opperman, saw the need for an organisation that would assist and integrate people with disabilities by equipping them with craft making skills.
From Teaching to Community Empowerment
Opperman worked as a teacher for thirteen years at Ningizimu, a special school in Durban, where he played a key role in the formation of its Arts and Technology Department.
As a former teacher with a post-graduate degree in Applied Social Science, Opperman has used his previous knowledge and experience to design a working model for Umcebo Trust. His passion and love for the people with special needs has informed his working relationship with the surrounding communities as well as various organisations working in the same field.
He warns that despite South Africa’s job creation and poverty alleviation strategies, enough opportunities have not been created for people with special needs.
Acknowledging unemployment as one of the key socio-political problems facing the country at the moment, Opperman is adamant that his organisation’s ability to equip people with special needs with craft making skills will help to root out unemployment and poverty.
Crafts for Employment
Currently the organisation has a team of 35 staff members who have been trained in arts and craft making. The team is comprised of full-time and part-time crafters and volunteers from the surrounding communities.
In a recent letter regarding the issue of race and gender representation in NGO governance, Opperman cautions against overlooking competent people based on race and gender. In light of this, Opperman notes that his team is comprised of 50% males and 50% females.
Operating on a modest annual budget of R200, 000, the Trust has recently transformed itself into a business oriented NGO (BONGO) to avoid, “Total dependency on donor funding”. This new approach, which was adopted in July 2007, has assisted the Trust to invest more time and resources in producing unique artworks and generating enough income to sustain the organisation.
The Trust’s strategic move to the Village Walk at Ushaka Marine World marks the beginning of the organisation’s major focus into the future. At the new home, the Trust has a fully fledged workshop and retail venue where members of the public can view crafters at work and also buy unique craft items.
Partnering for Development
The core of the Trust’s development approach is informed by its existing partnerships with other role players within the community. Since 2003, the Trust has entered into business partnerships with MAPPP-SETA and the company Obbligato.
The partnership with MAPPP-SETA has resulted in the implementation and delivery of a craft-production learnership for special needs learners. Learners who have gone through the learnership acquire a certificate that is in line with Level 2 Craft Production of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Opperman highlights this as an achievement of this partnership.
On the other hand, the partnership with Obbligato has also been very fruitful for the Trust. Obbligato assists with the development and pricing of beaded plants produced by the Trust’s crafters. Opperman explains that through their partnership with Obbligato, their artworks were exhibited at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London. He further states that the exhibition gave the Trust an opportunity to raise its profile abroad.
In light of this, Umcebo Trust has designed and assembled banners for prominent display in the lobby of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy and another one for Rita Marley, the late Bob Marley’s widow, presented to her during her visit to Durban early this year.
Opperman dreams of expanding the organisation’s reach to all nine provinces and into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
“The project is going well, and I think that if we work at it, and grow in the future. A lot of people can have the opportunity to grow and become real entrepreneurs”, explains Opperman. He further describes the Trust as an opportunity to grow and pilot the model, adding that he would like to share the Trust’s model with other people.
His strong interest for empowering people with special needs continue to add to the growth of the Trust.
- Butjwana Seokoma, Information Services Coordinator, SANGONeT.