Oh My Underwear Gives Back

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“#Pride On the darkest day when we had lost hope of getting an order, we got an order for 300 rainbow key rings for Gay Pride in the US... we are doing this order through a series of WhatsApp pictures being sent back and forth to crafters.”

With the world turned upside down from the COVID-19 pandemic, we, the privileged, tend to forget about those less fortunate than ourselves.

Oh My Underwear decided to do something a bit different to help a community that is very, very different from ours. It’s also a long way, physically, from us.

The Bead Ladies

Far, far away in the Valley of a 1000 Hills of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, far from towns and villages, hundreds of people live at subsistence levels, often without the benefits of running water and electricity. And a particular group of them, that I call “The Bead Ladies,” create beautiful beadwork that supports them and their extended families.

And when I say “extended families,” in this Zulu culture, it means multi-generational, from grandparents all the way to the newborn. Most of the bead ladies are grandmothers, or “gogos” who are often the sole support for these families who have lost the original breadwinners to AIDS/HIV, still rampant in this country. Each beader supports a family of 6-7 people.

Working with Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust, a non-profit in the area, we have been able to commission these gorgeous keyrings, in rainbow colors, to support and promote their work.

At the end of March, when I contacted the centre at the beginning of the shutdown, which is considered one of the most draconian shutdowns in the world,  I didn’t know if our request was feasible. But where there’s a will there’s a way. And we found it!

With the lockdown, the bead ladies were isolated, and the only communication was via cell phone. And WhatsApp came through! Paula Thompson, the Director at the Centre, spearheaded the project, and designs were sent back and forth and approved via WhatsApp. Busi, one of the ladies at the Centre, considered an essential worker (the Centre also runs a hospice) and who lives in the Valley, was able to deliver the beads to the ladies. A week later, Busi brought back the 300 keyrings to the Centre.

Then we had to wait for the international couriers to get back to work so the package could be sanitized and sent winging its way across the world. Tracking it and hoping it arrived in California in time for Pride. A week or so ago, the package was delivered.

We were so happy to provide this work for them when their usual outlet, the Woza Moya Store at the Centre was closed. And to know that it helped put food on their tables in the nick of time. Paula commented on the Woza Moya and Friends Facebook page, “#Pride On the darkest day when we had lost hope of getting an order,  we got an order for 300 rainbow key rings for Gay Pride in the US... we are doing this order through a series of WhatsApp pictures being sent back and forth to crafters.”

Now you can help support the Bead Ladies. With every order over $40, we’ll include a gorgeous, rainbow bead keyring. For each one we give away, we’ll donate $10 to HAC. And for $15 you can buy them as well, with all proceeds going to the Centre. The funds we send will buy food parcels for the families out in the valley, a very direct way of supporting these remarkable people.

Why the Bead Ladies?

You’re probably wondering how we got involved with a non-profit so far away. My son is one of the founders of Oh My Apparel LLC and I am a South African American, currently in South Africa and stranded here by the pandemic. As a photojournalist, I’ve worked with and written about the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust over the years, and love what they do for the community. So this project seemed like the perfect marriage between two disparate communities.

 Photos: Woza Moya and Friends

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