South African Women Take A Stitch in Time to Save Elephants
It’s been a couple of hundred years since the last elephant roamed wild in the Western Cape Province of South Africa but in the past couple of months it has seemed as though we have been surrounded by herds and herds of them. It’s been a couple of hundred years since the last elephant roamed wild in the Western Cape Province of South Africa but in the past couple of months it has seemed as though we have been surrounded by herds and herds of them. Not real elephants of course, but the more than 100,000 felt ribbons that more than 200 women from disadvantaged backgrounds have stitched to represent the International Fund for Animal Welfare worldwide campaign to end the poaching of elephants for their ivory. Once IFAW had decided to make the funky felt “elephant ears” as a way of raising awareness of the threats to elephants, the next decision was where to make them? Quickest and probably easiest, would have been to source them from a factory – probably in Asia. But, in line with IFAW’s mission that our work benefit both animals and people, we decided to keep the ribbon-making on the continent where elephants face the biggest threats -Africa. Thus began the search to find an NGO that had the capacity to produce huge quantities of ribbons on a deadline. The search led us to Learn to Earn – (www.learntoearn.org.za), a charity in the Western Cape that has, as its motto, “a hand up, not a hand out”. Learn to Earn concentrates on capacity building and skills training and, of the 300 or so people, who go through their programmes each year at least 70 per cent go on to be economically active – no mean feat in a township area where the unemployment rate is conservatively estimated to be 50 per cent. Learn to Earn coordinated 11 other NGO groups, and in all over 200 women – many of them single mothers, or suffering from HIV-Aids related illnesses – benefited from making the ribbons. Most satisfying for me was talking to the women and discovering how much they had learned about the threats to elephants from poaching as a result of doing this work. Their NGO coordinators had made it their business to ensure the women working on the ribbons project knew exactly what their painstaking sewing efforts were in aid of. So, while it is a safe bet to say that none of the women who sewed an elephant ribbon has ever seen a wild elephant, or even one in captivity, there are well over 200 people out there who will spread the message in their communities about the need to save elephants. One last fact – did you know that over 10 kilometres of ivory ribbon was stitched in the course of making the IFAW elephant ears? -- CP Please visit http://ifaw.org today and every day in support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to stop elephants from being poached for their ivory.