When Vivienne Gilbert had to give up work due to Fibromyalgia, she wasn’t quite ready to ‘do nothing’, and now she has set up a not-for-profit shop to help support an African village.
Kookies Crafts, based in Woolston in Southampton, provides a venue for local crafters to sell handmade products by renting shelf space, with any profits the shop makes sent to Malawi in Central Africa.
Nsanje District is one of the poorest villages in Malawi, and is often blighted by heavy rain, cyclones, floods and severe drought resulting in famine.
Kookies Crafts has been supporting the pastor from the village to create short and long term solutions to improve the standards of living, and to be able to farm crops consistently to avoid famine.
“When I had to give up work due to fibromyalgia, I wasn’t ready to do nothing,” explains Vivienne, 66.
“I had a vision to start selling handmade crafts in 2016 with my sister, which eventually led to using a converted garage to host workshops and having a small shop in the basement of my daughter’s bakery.
“Covid put an end to the shop, my sister retired and I continued with just the workshops.
“I took a leap of faith in January 2023 and moved into the premises I am in now, and we opened to the public in mid February.”
During the pandemic Vivienne felt that she wanted to help a family who may be struggling – she heard about the plight of Nsanje District, and Pastor Charles, through a friend and decided that she would try to help them.
“So much has been achieved over the past two years,” says Vivienne. “We’ve gone from helping a family to supporting the entire village, and more.
“To date approximately £8,000 has been raised and used effectively in raising living standards.
“A drinking water tap has been installed in the village, and a feeding centre was set up to avoid hunger for anyone that is in need, using Kookies Crafts funds to purchase food.”
Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan, and the work in the village is very much ongoing, as Vivienne found out after they helped to fund irrigation installation at the farm fields in April 2021, which was sadly destroyed by floods just a few months later in January 2022.
“Losing the fields in the floods was devastating, as provision of funds is always needed for six months of the year to purchase food, due to the extreme heat in the summer months,” Vivienne continues. “But we found a better solution, by renting farm land on higher ground and the irrigation was bought and installed once again in April 2022.”
Vivienne’s long-term vision for the village is for it to become self sufficient, and to enable all the children to access education.
“So far, our support has meant that some children are able to attend school,” she adds. “And one young man is now in his second year at university – he is being sponsored by a lovely local lady who wishes to remain anonymous.
“We also, provided funds for a student to begin training to eventually become a policeman.
“I can’t take all the credit for this though, because without those that support my vision, and Kookies Crafts, it would not be possible. Family, friends and members of the public all help by renting shelf space, purchasing products, booking onto the workshops and donating to the fundraising events.
“I find hosting and teaching craft workshops creates a stronger community – enabling others to meet like-minded people in a stress-free environment – so crafting is also helping the community in supporting good mental health and well-being!”
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