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Zambian Project Helps Provide Support for HIV Positive Women and Orphans


Tens of thousands of discarded plastic shopping bags in Zambia are changing the lives of women and children affected by HIV AIDS. They use the bags to crochet purses and other artistic products that help them earn income for their households. From Lusaka, Zambia, Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Danstan Kaunda says the Chikumbuso Widows Center in the township of Ngombe in Lusaka has become a safe haven for widows, old women and orphans. The township, with a population of 92,000, is said to have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Lusaka.

The women at the center take the bags, cut them into strips and crochet them into artistic handbags for shopping, carrying money, or holding cell phones. They’re sold both domestically and internationally.

Most of the women in the project are HIV positive and are taking anti-retrovirals. Every day, they gather at the center chatting, laughing and singing as they weave the plastic strips into art.

Thirty-seven-year-old Maureen Tembo is one of the widows at the center, “My husband died 10 years ago, I have two children and five other children for my late sisters and brothers that I am looking after at home. The project is so good. It has helped me a lot, because when my husband died, I was not working, but now, life has really changed for me. I am now able to take my children [back] to school.“

The Chikumbuso Widows Center was started two years ago. It supports more than 90 women and 300 orphans whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS. It’s run by American Linda Wilkinson, “When we started, we were looking for a micro-enterprise project to unite the women as a group. It was easy to just give [out] loans to individual women, but that did not really unite the women. [For the trash bags] we have different [collection] outlets in areas like schools and the Dutch and American embassies. So when people [at these outlets ] throw the plastic bags away, we collect them. Because of that, I am getting to be known around [here] as a ‘bag lady’ -- some people just called me for the collections. “

Each of the women makes a number of bags per month, ranging from K35,000-K100,000 [$10 to $25]. When a bag is sold, half the profit goes to the woman who made it, 25 percent goes into a revolving fund for the center and the other 25 percent is split among the other widows.

Wilkinson says the goal of the center is to make local women self sufficient through micro-enterprise ventures with support from donations from US groups.