Text and photos by Joseph F Kwashi
Glowing with admiration, the tourists meander around the shop. The handmade wares are so beautiful. So intricate. The detail on each of the throw pillows strikes awe into the young lady who’s walked ahead of her party.
She touches the embroidery, running the palm of her hand over the pillow, feeling the patterned grooves. She takes the pillow and hugs it. All this time the shopkeeper is looking on, careful not disturb this moment of gratification. No doubt the moment to sell will present itself. The scene is playing itself out in the Penduka craft shop.
Situated 12 kilometres from Windhoek, Penduka is a women’s development project aimed at empowering women to take charge of their lives. Penduka means ‘wake up’ in the Oshiwambo and Otjiherero languages. It is thirteen years ago since Christine Toxopeus, a Dutch national involved in community work in Namibia, realised that many women were making beautiful products at home, but not marketing them. She conceived the idea of selling these wares to tourists. Her efforts were centred on empowering the women and this is how Penduka was born.
Not only has the project been a success and become self-supporting. It has changed many women’s lives positively. The Penduka ethos is about making women recognise their potential, their talents, the possibilities open to them and how they can turn these towards earning a livelihood. Rural women from all over Namibia are helped to create their own jobs by becoming aware of, and building on, the skills and resources they already have.
Until now over 500 women, working in 16 different groups throughout Namibia, have been trained in different needlework skills and are paid a fair rate for the items they produce. Priority is given to indigent women, including those who are disabled or victims of spousal abuse, poverty and other dire circumstances, such as the prevailing HIV/AIDS pandemic and TB, which are affecting increasing numbers of women. These are women who are under- and unemployed, from urban as well as rural areas. Thirty women are employed directly at the centre, producing Penduka’s renowned handmade table linen and bedroom furnishings in batik and embroidery.
Penduka is an experience. Nestled on the banks of the Goreangab Dam, the setting could not be more perfect for enjoying the different facilities that are on offer. The African food restaurant will take the visitor on a Namibian and continental taste trip. There is a conference room, whose setting can only lead to positive debates. From Penduka, tours into Katutura are organised for visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant local culture. Three different types of accommodation are offered at the centre: a campsite, backpackers’ huts and a bungalow.
To appreciate the real value and beauty of Penduka and its sense of purpose, you must speak to the women who work there. Their personal testimonies are inspiring; they are tales of woe that have become stories of triumph. By people whose lives have assumed new meaning. In this positive vein, Penduka acts, as it were, as a ‘treatment supporter’ to the surrounding community. The centre has a TB department that currently offers social services to about 150 patients. The patients are provided with a hot meal and the volunteers from Penduka ensure that they adhere to their treatment regimen. Patients also participate in craft activities. Some of their wares are exported overseas.
Back in the shop, having gained some perspective, it is apparent that the act by the young lady enters a spiritual realm. Each sale in the Penduka craft shop constitutes a small miracle. It represents the mending of the broken souls who painstakingly and lovingly sew these pillows. It is putting bread on the table for a little boy and buying a new school uniform for a little girl. It is an act of expiation. Grief, sorrow, disaffection and hopelessness are expunged. For every item bought at Penduka, someone’s life is put further on the mend, improved just a little more.
What to do at Penduka
Penduka’s hand-made crafts offer real value for money. The crafts sold here have found their way overseas to shops in Holland, Norway, UK and increasingly, the United States. Highlights at Penduka are cultural evenings and story-telling nights under starlight. Occasionally there are performances by cultural groups. Tour operators organise tours to the centre daily.
Penduka’s opening hours are from 8:00–17:00 every day except Sundays and public holidays.
NAMIBIA CRAFT CENTRE – Penduka items can also be purchased at the Namibia Craft Centre
How to get there
Follow Independence Avenue (Windhoek’s main street) out of the city, through Katutura to where it meets Otjomuise Road. Continue straight across intersection onto Eveline Street, past the Queen Supermarket, turn left into Green Mountain Dam Road and follow the signs along a gravel road to where Penduka is situated on the banks of the Goreangab Dam.
Flamingo May 2006