In a rather bizarre but heart-warming development, Mothers for All is now training male and female prisoners in Worcester Medium Prison in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Over twenty prisoners have received training and are now spending much of their free time rolling paper beads in order to help the AIDS orphans in their community.
So now we have the 'Mothers for All Prison Project' coming together with some of South Africa's biggest challenges - AIDS orphans together withcrime and prisoner rehabiliation - in an unlikely but inspirational solution. The prison system is no stranger to unlikely developments in prisoner rehabilitation and orphan care. Worcester prison now hosts the Group of Hope, an inmate-driven initiative to help address the widespread effects of the AIDS epidemic. It is this group of prisoners that Mothers for All is working with.
The Group of Hope was started in 2002 by a group of 20 inmates while they were in Brandvlei Maximum and began by helping prisoners with AIDS - visiting them in the prison hospital, making 'get well' cards, writing letters for those who were illiterate, and then growing extra vegetables for them.
The Group then heard about all the AIDS orphans in the community, many of whom were also HIV-positive, and wanted to do something to help. Their sympathetic social worker, Jacobus Pansegrouw, who had helped the inmates to set up their project, went off in search of orphans to help. He was directed by the local childwelfare organisation to a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Mqela, who was a retired social auxiliary worker. She had remained haunted, however, by the growing number of desperate children in her community and had therefore opened her two-roomed home in Zwelethemba township to children in need and was providing two meals and support to to around 80 orphans and vulnerable children every day.
Elizabeth, who is now sadly deceased, immediately suggested a rather desperate orphan for the prisoners to 'adopt' and took him to the prison to meet the men. Thabang was 11 years old and suffering from AIDS as well as cerebral palsy. He had no family left. The prisoners were shocked by his physical state and tattered clothes and requested their civilian clothes so that they could cut them up and hand sew a new wardrobe for him. Thabang began to thrive on all the attention and visited his new fathers once a month. They gave him his first-ever birthday party and presents. By 2008 the Group of Hope was caring for 30 orphans who visited the prison once a month.
The Group members used the money they gained from donations, prize money and making crafts to help the children. They also made them clothes and grew vegetables for them. The growing affection between the inmates and the children proved transformative, healing and inspirational for everyone involved in the project.
The project in Brandvlei Prison was suddenly closed in 2008 for a variety of non-related problems. Fortunately six of the Group members are now in Worcester Medium and have managed to re-establish the Group of Hope and some of their original projects, with the help of Mr Stemmet, the head of the prison, and other members of staff. This has included working with Mothers for All so that the Group can generate money in order to continue helping orphans in their community. They are so enthusiastic about the beading project that all 20 men in the cell now get up a five in the morning to start rolling the beads. As one group member said, "I am not just rolling paper beads, I am rolling opportunities for our orphans. Each and every bead contains them."
Below you can see pictures of the Group of Hope receiving training and sporting some of the 100 necklaces commissioned by a design shop in Cape Town, Box Living, out of their printed waste paper.