The barbed wire fence surrounded a lone, gated building where the women were toiling over their wares. To the left, long rolls of circular tubes were being spun relentlessly whilst on the right, these completed rolls were sawn off into digestible sized units. In the middle of a dingy concrete building in rural South Africa, nobody would suspect that 8 unemployed and formerly abused women are standing up to fend for themselves using toilet paper as their weaponry.
Mo Groch had first met these women through the adult literacy classes she runs. A core part of Londolozi’s social upliftment and development, these classes have been going on for 18 months in the aim of empowering local rural people to read. In addition to teaching people literacy, it has also built strong relationships with the champions who are the heart and soul of the Lilydale and Justicia communities surrounding Londolozi Game Reserve.
With the assistance of these community champions, the 8 ladies of the Dabuka Cooperative, translated to “You Strike a Women, You Strike a Rock” saw the potential of a possible micro business opportunity and applied for government funding. This process started in 2007 with toilet tissue being identified as a product that would be consumed widely. It was also an item that many rural people had to travel a long distance to buy…if they could afford it.
The proposal was submitted to the government and through the department of social services, they were put in touch with the manufacturers of the toilet roll making machine - Zhauns. Zhauns donated all the equipment and a service contract for the machinery that these ladies needed. It took them two years of persistent visits to local authorities before they were eventually given a piece of land in Lilydale with a half finished building. The ladies completed the roofing and then started production of the toilet rolls in March 2010.
When Mo visited the project at the beginning of April, she was hugely inspired by the courage, determination and skill of these 8 women to begin their own business. After talking to Londolozi, we realised this was a local business we would not only like to support but believed would be an opportunity to further empower these inspirational women.
Back at the lone building, the push of a big red button sees a surge of electricity enliven the circular machine. The revolutions begin slowly at first and then speed up to wrap layer upon layer of fine paper over another. With it, the rural economic machine is also beginning to wrap layer upon layer of potential and output into the community. Sometimes it is just this surge of opportunity is all that is needed to give momentum to helping people create their own businesses.
Mo loads up her car until it is bursting with toilet paper and begins the drive through the reserve back to Londolozi. The toilet paper is not only for all the staff back at the lodge, but part of the broader plan to keep conservation and community sustainable by investing in local people who are taking positive steps forward to better themselves and their communities.
Written and Filmed by: Rich Laburn
Photographed by: Bronwyn Varty