The best way to understand this enormous project is simply to watch the video above.
I still have so many mixed feelings about this project which dominated my life and my world in 2009… and exhausted me (mentally, emotionally and physically) in ways that I never thought possible…
… and yet – I learned so much. I changed so much.
I still have a lot of questions about this kind of social upliftment work. In many ways, I now feel uncomfortable about some of the decisions we made back then (well-meaning as they were). And yet… as uncomfortable as I feel – I’m not able to offer any kind of neatly-packaged “alternative” or “solution”.
Even after all these years, I still have more questions than answers.
I’m not sure whether I – personally – made any kind of significant… long-lasting… positive difference in the lives of anyone (whether the Role Models themselves – or whether the folk from Isibani Community Centre or Amangwe Zulu Beaders). To be honest – in spite of the fact that it was one of the hardest and most stressful years of my life… I look back, and I’m not sure whether I accomplished anything of long-term value.
Tapestry of Dreams provided me with life-lessons that were difficult to learn. And yet – I did learn them. And because of that, I grew.
My involvement in the project also opened all kinds of unexpected doors for me. I was nominated as a Tearfund Inspired Individual and the following year, I was invited to conceptualise and launch another supersized social upliftment project in a community closer to Johannesburg called VENT! So – in that way, Tapestry of Dreams helped me… it taught me… it changed me… and it opened doors of opportunity for me.
But, did the project help others… in a meaningful, tangible, long-term way…?
Did it truly help those that it was meant to help?
I’m not sure.
Most of the small business enterprises that the corporate-creatures from Sasol tried to set up later failed. To this day – I question the effectiveness and sustainability of projects run by wealthy corporations… ploughing all their allocated CSI (corporate social investment) funds into community projects that have been cooked up – not by the communities themselves – but by big-wigs around a boardroom table.
I have my doubts about all of it… (which is partly why I haven’t involved myself in projects of this sort for the past 5 or 6 years).
The real heroes in this story are – of course – the invisible ones who DO instead of talk. (And isn’t that always the case?)
It’s the likes of Sofi Cogley and the long-term workers and volunteers at Isibani Community Centre. Other heroes are the home-based caregivers and community members who – in spite of their own poverty – continue to absorb orphans into their homes. The real heroes are the women who labour long hours in fields… or who clean homes and wash dishes (for families like mine)… and spend their modest earnings not on themselves – but on those in need. Whether it’s their own multiple children, grandchildren and foster children… or the sick neighbour (and her children).
The people who live, work, help and serve… long-term… in that world and in those communities are the real heroes. Those who see the need and (as my friend, Roz Thomas said)… “just get on with it…”
If the goal of Tapestry of Dreams was to provide 10 inspirational women with an experience of a lifetime – an experience and an opportunity they would never had otherwise had… then, I think we accomplished that goal. I think the project also broadened our understanding and taught all of us (including the fashion designers involved) some important life-lessons.
If, however, the goal was to “fix”… or repair the situation… to “fix” the lives of the women involved (by providing them with businesses, income… our-version-of-solutions)… then I think we failed miserably.
I guess it all depends on how you see it. After all these years, I’m still not sure how I see it.
What I learned about myself during this project…
- I’m a DO’er – and not just a talker.
- I’m capable of more than what I thought I was capable of.
- I realise how important it is (to me) to stay true to my word. When I told those 10 Role Models at the beginning of the year that there would be a Joburg fashion show and concert… I knew, then and there, that I would go to any lengths to make sure that it happened. I would not let them down, no matter how much it cost me. I stubbornly refused to give up – even when a number of people were saying that we should rather “just do something small” in the local community (because we hadn’t managed to raise the funds to afford the big event).
- And – in spite of the fact that I managed this project… I know with certainty… that I never want to do anything like this again. There were infinite amounts of admin, fund-raising, corporate-schmoozing, organising, promoting, marketing, money-management… all the things that are NOT my natural strengths. And because of this, it was a difficult, stressful and exhausting year. I look back on 2009 and I’m just grateful I made it through. I don’t feel any nostalgic longing to repeat that year – or that project.
- And yet… with all of that said… I still feel very emotional (in a good way) when I watch the video below.