Charming mountain craft centre a lifeline to hundreds

[notice]An occasional guest column by Esther Labuschagne, ZUMAT (Zululand Missions Air Transport) public relations practitioner, about people she meets in off-the-beaten track places of KwaZulu-Natal.[/notice]

It was March 2012 and I was accompanying pilot Sjaak Walhout on a medical flight from Mseleni Hospital in a remote area of northern KwaZulu-Natal to Mosvold Hospital in another remote centre — the mountaintop town of Ingwavuma.

The prayer room at Fancy Stitch

We picked up Dr Viljoen and Dr Lauren at Mseleni and as we flew over the rural plains it was heart-breaking to see the expanses of infertile land. We wondered how much malaria was breaking out beneath us in the marshy landscape that must be home to millions of infected mosquitos. I thought to myself: “How long would one have to travel from here to get healthcare?”

We landed at the King’s Strip, which is a grass airstrip that is owned by the Zulu King and which has accommodation for his guards. From there we were taken by  a government vehicle to the hospital, some 10 kilometres away. The temperature was soaring at around 38˚C. Upon arrival, Sjaak and I set up a room as our office for the day and attempted to do some admin work. This did not last long and we were soon scouting for an adventure. I remembered there was an orphan care facility on this mountain, called Isibani Sethemba Light of Hope) and there was a sewing project and tea garden called Fancy Stitch. The thought of these places brought a smile to my face and I roped Sjaak into the idea of getting directions from Dr Heese, the husband of  the founder and organiser of Fancy Stitch. Dr Heese informed us that the orphan care did not have a base where the children lived because the orphans were placed in foster homes or with social workers. He did, however, point us towards Fancy Stitch. This excited both Sjaak and I as it meant we would get to enjoy lunch there.

As we walked along a dirt road that leads to Fancy Stitch, I wondered how all of the town’s residents survived. A taxi sped past leaving me in a cloud of dust; this didn’t mix well with the sweat beads forming on my forehead. The air felt wonderfully fresh up there and the beauty that surrounded us was breathtaking. The dirt road lead us up a hill toward a seemingly rundown yet well looked after building. The gates and window bars were made of wrought-iron with integrate designs. The shady leaf-covered lapa beckoned me but my attention was drawn away by an art gallery to my right.

As I stepped inside I was overwhelmed by the detail of the welcome banner hanging on the wall. It was made out of hand-stitched letters, each creatively crafted. “We Welcome U” “Siyakwakukela Mbathisa” “Joy” “Fancy Stitch” “Art, Tea, Craft”. I wondered how many hours it must have taken for something like this to be made. I promptly walked inside and browsed amongst the other beautiful artwork. There were picture frames, key chains, bookmarks, fridge magnets to name but a few of the items. I walked down a short corridor and admired the patchwork on a quilt. Sjaak and I heard voices and a sewing machine. I was drawn towards the sounds and there sat five ladies packaging hand sewn embroidery items.

Helicopter greeting card by Ignatia Nyawo of Fancy Stitch

Fancy Stitch has 400 members, who are all ladies from the community who get given embroidery cotton and material to take home to create beautiful pieces of art. Fancy Stitch, then buys the products from them and displays it in its art gallery and sells it to international and local customers. Without this opportunity many woman would not be able to earn a living or support their children.

Fancy Stitch follows a Christian ethos with each day beginning and ending in prayer and song. Maryna Heese, founder of Fancy Stitch, told me that by starting the day with prayer and song it’ was difficult to act in an ungodly manner towards one’s neighbour and it set the work tone for the day. There was a prayer room facility in their garden where people could sit on the benches covered with pillows, pin prayer requests on the wall and spend time with God and praying with their colleagues. Fancy Stitch was founded 11 years ago after a Zulu Pastor’s daughter went to live with the Heese family as his other two daughters had fallen pregnant outside of marriage. Ntombe, the

The shady lap tea garden

pastor’s daughter, spent two weeks sleeping over and just never left. She swiftly became part of the family but went home during the holidays. One holiday she also fell pregnant and the whole teenage pregnancy ‘norm’ opened Maryna’s eyes to what was really happening in the local community.  Once a teenager became pregnant, she either ended up becoming a beggar in her mother’s home or had to prostitute herself in order to get income. This deeply disturbed Maryna and she knew she had to do something to alleviate the situation; hence Fancy Stitch was born. She was unsure where this dream would take her but she started off by teaching women in the community how to embroider. The idea took off from there and they now own the property they operate from and have been able to assist many women and families in Ingwavuma.

I was deeply moved by the women’s work and wished I had brought money with me to support them. I left the art gallery with a heart full of joy and moved toward the shady lapa in the garden. The leaves had all turned to deep shades of red and orange and formed an intertwined overhead covering. I thought to myself it would make a wonderful venue for a banquet table with fairy lights hanging from the ceiling. I enjoyed a lovely lunch with Sjaak, served by locals who worked at the tearoom. Sadly time drew near for us to leave and make our way back home. This experience and organisation will stay in my heart and mind for a long time, and I hope that one day I will be able to return and support the amazing work they are doing. You can view their work and organisation on

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