What is the Many Hands Project?
The Many Hands Project is a small organisation founded by Jolene Djembe in 2014, that aims to empower the local women of Groot Marico (a small hamlet in the North West province) with a variety of skills to build their entrepreneurial abilities. These skills are mainly needlework, decorative sewing and textile arts handicrafts, however, they also learn valuable life skills from the Mandy Hands community itself. over the years the project has grown to be a safe space for the local women where they can learn, sew and grow together.
The project not only equips its members with needlework skills, it also gives them the opportunity to form lifelong bonds with their community as well as the possibility of earning their own income by either selling what they have made or through offering their needlework services.
Where is Groot Marico?
Groot Marico is a small hamlet in the North West province, South Africa. . All the houses and shops are on a singular road and everyone knows everyone. This small town relies heavily on tourism and has gained popularity through the Bosman stories.
Herman Charles Bosman was a well-known South African short story writer in the 1940s. He wrote many light-hearted, funny stories about the area which he turned into an internationally recognised short story novel. These stories are the heart and soul of Groot Marico and a great source of pride for its people.
“There is no other place I know that is so heavy with atmosphere, so strangely and darkly impregnated with that stuff of life that bears the authentic stamp of South Africa.” -Herman Charles Bosman
Herman Bosman fell in love with this tiny hamlet many years ago because of its character and incredible beauty, and once you visit it, you’ll understand exactly why.
Differently’s role in the Many Hands Project:
From the moment our designer set foot in Groot Marico, she was taken by its beauty and culture.
Since the start of South Africa’s first lockdown in March 2020, Jolene and the Many Hands women have had to shut down the project almost entirely to comply with lockdown restrictions. Once restrictions eased, they started making masks for members of the community and were even selling to surrounding towns too. However, since the country has been in and out of multiple levels of lockdown, Jolene and the women have been unable to continue sewing classes and many of the members have either sought part-time jobs outside of Groot Marico or have gone back to doing very little all day. Jolene has also had to give up her shop, where she would hold workshops for the project, like many others in the town. They have no place to hold workshops and no way of earning money.
On top of Differently donating old and outdated fabric, our team wants to shed a light on the little town of Groot Marico and the Many Hands Project. This is why we have partnered with Jolene and a handful of the project’s most talented and devoted members to make the Many Hands Kimono , which will be featured in our upcoming Spring Collection. We took a trip to Groot Marico in the middle of August to host a workshop for the Many Hands women to demonstrate how to cut, sew and assemble the Kimono themselves. A portion of the proceeds acquired from the sale of the Kimonos will go to compensating the Many Hands women for their sewing services. Additionally, we are setting up a go-fund-me in order to purchase the Many Hands Project a new sewing machine.
Who made the Many Hands Kimono?
Below are the stories of the five talented seamstresses belonging to the Many Hands Project who spent their time and labour producing the Many Hands Kimono.
Jolene is 62 years old and has been living in Groot Marico for about 24 years. She grew up on a farm in the Freestate where she learned needlework from her mother and enjoyed using traditional Shewe fabric. She has always loved the Shewe fabric because of its unique smell. Jolene has worked with traditional African fabric her whole life and has always surrounded herself with women to whom she passes on her sewing knowledge to. Jolene is the founder of the Many Hands Project and has devoted her life to upskilling and empower the women of Groot Marico, teaching them needlework and encouraging them to be entrepreneurs. She has helped many women in the community to make a sustainable living as well as building a community of independent and empowered women.
“I choose what I want to do and I just go for it”- Jolene
Maria Malebane (59):
Maria was born and raised in Groot Marico and is a very well respected member of the community. She is also the mother of 8 children and a number of grandchildren. Maria has been sewing for over seven years and started off by teaching knitting and needlework at the local school. She then moved on to sewing with a machine when she met Jolene. Maria is referred to as the ‘leader’ of the Many Hands project and has been a member since the very beginning. She enjoys keeping herself busy with a number of projects and activities. Maria likes to sell her handmade items and has tremendous pride in her garden, which has been described as the most beautiful garden in the whole of Groot Marico. Although Maria is the oldest member of the group, she is fun-loving and has a cheeky personality. She loves to make those around her laugh and she has a playful nature. Maria is also a very talented knitter and enjoys knitting her own clothes which she proudly shows off to everyone.
Gabatswane Elizabeth Molatole (58):
Elizabeth was born in Johannesburg and worked there until she moved to Groot Marico in 2004. She started off with embroidery when she was in standard 8 (grade 10) and then moved on to learn how to sew with a machine when she met Jolene. Elizabeth is the proud single mother of four children who are mostly grown up now. Much like her friend Maria, she likes to keep herself busy with a number of activities and projects. “I like to make business”. Her favourite garment to make is trousers and she would love to make more in the future. Elizabeth has an entrepreneurial spirit and as a single mom, has had to do whatever she can to support her family. Due to her hard work, her children have attended good schools and gone on to attend university, an accomplishment she is very proud of.
Komotso April (47):
Komotso was born in Groot Marico and has lived there her whole life. She has three beautiful children who she loves with all her heart. She learned how to sew in primary school and improved on this skill when she met Jolene. She loves using the machine to sew but hasn’t been part of the Many Hands project for as long as the other ladies. Komotso is a very soft and calm presence, yet serious and focused when it comes to sewing and making garments
It is important that we take this opportunity to highlight organisations like the Many Hands Project, which aim to support and empower women every day no matter what the circumstances. We ask that you do the same by either purchasing a Kimono or donating so that Jolene can continue to run the Many Hands Project and achieve her dream of expanding it.
We would like to thank Jolene and the Many Hands members for allowing us to get involved and for being so kind, friendly, and welcoming. This is truly a beautiful project and we are honoured to be a part of something so special.
Written by Genevieve Lobban