67 minutes – Thandi’s teddy bears: from community centre to global sales

2012-07-18 11:32

The City Press online team used its 67 minutes to tell stories not often covered by mainstream media.

Before 2006, Thandi Tshabalala (51) from Zola, Soweto, was an unemployed mother of three daughters, waiting like many unskilled women in the township for an opportunity.

Today she is a quality controller of a fourteen-member small business called Shweshwe Poppies.

The company makes teddy bears that they sell locally and abroad.

It all started when Thandi became a beneficiary of a community centre called Malebese in 2000, simply translated “mother of milk”.

The Malebese community centre was established in 1969 by African Children’s Feeding Scheme (ACFS), a non-governmental organisation that reaches out to the underpriviledged in Soweto and twelve other townships around Johannesburg.

At Malebese, Thandi learnt skills such as sewing, gardening and health education.

With the advice of an overseas tourist who visited Malebese in 2006, she and women from the scheme started a business of sewing teddy bears from the drawings of the young kids who attend Malebese children’s day care.

They now sell in Germany and France.

Her life has changed dramatically since then.

“Today I earn monthly stipends which vary from the revenue generated from selling our teddy bears in a respective month. I am very happy because the time I spend in Shweshwe Poppies sewing puts bread on the table and I can take care of my family,” she said.

On Mandela Day Thandi and her other thirteen colleagues are planning to help others.

“We are going to clean up the yard of Vusisizwe Primary School as part of the 67 minutes Mandela Day revolution,” she said.

Thandi also advised other jobless women in her neighbourhood not to sit back hoping for the government to spoon-feed them.

“It is better to keep busy and start something rather than being a couch-potato,” she said.

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