by Fr Mark James OP
Three members of the Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT), Faith Cronwright, Suzanne Lombard and Jennifer Lepono, were in Manzini assisting the Catholic Deaf community of Eswatini establish and develop their sewing project. The DCCT members were in the Kingdom for 2 weeks in March.
Nompilo Lupupa, the sewing project coordinator, said: ‘We appreciate DCCT’s gesture in coming to Manzini for two weeks to help us develop our sewing skills. They are also helped us improve our bookkeeping skills and the overall administration of the project.’ She added that ‘although we are only starting out, nevertheless we already have five deaf women volunteers, myself included, who give our time to this initiative.’ Nompilo was also grateful for the support from the Bishop and the diocese ‘who have shown their commitment to uplifting our Catholic Deaf community in Eswatini.’
Faith Cronwright, the director of DCCT said ‘our organisation in Cape Town has the same objective in empowering Deaf people, so when Fr Mark invited us to come and offer assistance and advice to the Catholic Deaf women here, we had no hesitation.’ She added that we ‘saw when we arrived that the women were already making beautiful bags from jeans.’ Jennifer Lepono, who worked for 25 years in a sewing factory, said that she was impressed with the Deaf women’s sewing skills and sought to help by offering them ‘different patterns for other items like table place mats, aprons, chair bags for preschools and peg bags for washing lines.’ ‘We have added embroidery as another skill in which we are offering assistance.’
Suzanne Lombard mentioned that ‘over and above the production of items, it is also important to have a business plan.’ ‘In Cape Town we get orders from 4 pre-schools to make chair bags,’ she said, ‘this is a good income generator as we have to produce over 100 bags.’ Suzanne added, ‘This ensures we make enough income to keep the project going. The same needs to happen here in Eswatini.’ Suzanne commented further saying that, ‘it was essential that the marketing and the selling of the items is done.’ ‘Some of DCCT’s projects are partially supported by the income generated by the sewing project,’ she said.
DCCT was established in September 1987, with the assistance of Fr Cyril Axelrod CSsR, a South African born deaf-blind priest. The main objective was to empower Deaf people in the Western Cape to uplift their own community. Fr Cyril was adamant that it was not enough just to offer Deaf people spiritual assistance without also recognising that the church community must respond to the struggles of Deaf people, many of whom are poor, by offering material and social support too. After starting small, this Catholic organisation, based in the Cape Town suburb of Heathfield, now employs 17 members of staff including two social workers. Only three staff members, two social workers and an interpreter are hearing. All other staff are Deaf. DCCT’s projects include a sewing project run by Suzanne Lombard and Jennifer Lepono, an audiology department, computer training for Deaf people, a health awareness programme, social welfare and social work assistance, an Arts, Culture and Drama group, men and women groups as well as an outreach to the elderly Deaf. We celebrate together as a faith community every third Sunday of the month with our chaplain Fr Mark Foster.
The Eswatini Catholic Deaf women’s sewing project is based at the Bishop’s house in Sandlane Street, Manzini. A catalogue is being formulated to help prospective customers see what the project is making. It is hoped that this will be also online. Orders will be most welcome. Anyone interested in finding out more about the sewing project is welcome to sms or Whatsapp Nompilo at 7923 0640 or phone Fr Mark at 7910 3134.