In a tiny room in Soweto, a circle of teen girls with nimble fingers entwines yarns. Being here inspires self-revelation, a defining of who they truly are.
They talk of nursing parents dying of HIV/Aids, of caring for younger siblings in child headed households and of uncles and sugar daddies that rape. They ponder teen motherhood and debate safe sex. They shed quiet tears then embrace each other, giggle, compare hair weaves and sing Lira songs. They're young women on the brink of adulthood with an aptitude for growth, for wisdom beyond their years. They have an inner light despite the consequences of poverty, abuse and loss. This is their safe space to share, care and broaden their knowledge.
Whether it be embroidery, appliqué, knit or crochet, these girls are redefining handmade. They are not just reclaiming traditional handcrafts handed down through generations. It's not only a fun hobby or therapeutic art form. They're learning portable skills with their very own hands. When the hope of tertiary education doesn't materialise, these skills may lead to income generation.
By making scarf banners as placards against being violated, they're learning to be activists for women's rights. By yarn bombing public spaces with craft graffiti, they're learning to be peace advocates. By imagining symbols, they're learning the language of metaphor as universal dialogue beyond borders. By gifting friendship scarves to their peers in other African countries, they're learning not to fear the 'other' or have xenophobic attitudes. They're also learning that a gift made with love doesn't need reciprocation.
By up-cycling discarded fabric they're learning of eco-friendly design and to respect mother earth. Through collaborating on a patchwork mural they're learning leadership skills and to encourage each other. As fibre artisans, they're learning to tap into their creative potential and generate original ideas that have value. Interdisciplinary handcrafts offer imagination a medium for expression - creative literacy in education is so important.
Girls' education should include alternative approaches to learning alongside those offered in mainstream schooling. Developing their skill sets and creative interests through craftivism is vitally important - even if it is in an informal context such as Story Scarves. The true purpose of education is to engage minds, in any way possible. For an educated girl with transferable hand skills coupled with self worth, bountiful possibilities await. She will teach her daughters and ultimately impact her community in an uplifting way.
Stitch by stitch, with perseverance and exploration, confidence grows. These girls re-imagine their worlds through fibre artistry - momentarily escaping their daily problems. Each realises that the specialness of a one-of-a-kind handmade product is as uniquely special as the maker. That's a lesson worth teaching.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Girls Transform the World 2013.