When Gertrude Banda began making jewelry for The ABATAKA Collection project, she used her pay to buy medicine to ease her mother’s pain from cancer. Last year, her mother died, and Gertrude’s jewelry earnings paid for the funeral. The loss hit especially hard: Her mother had helped single-parent Gertrude raise the children she has taken in when others were unable to care for them.
“When my mother died, I started thinking it would be important to know my HIV status so I could plan for my health and my children’s future,” says Gertrude, 34. She rejoiced when her HIV test came back negative – and she is committed to being a “good helper” to her many relatives and friends who are HIV-positive. Gertrude cares for her two older sisters’ children, her own two children and an orphan she has taken in.
Gertrude got to know The ABATAKA Collection project through its artisans at Chikumbuso, a Lusaka-area community that’s a haven for widows, orphans and others touched by HIV/AIDS. The mothers and grandmothers at Chikumbuso pool some of their earnings to fund a school for the compound’s children; Gertrude is an instructor there, teaching a class of 50 first-graders. Gertrude wants to get further teacher training and is saving some of her pay for that — but for now, she is proud that her earnings pay school costs for the children she is raising, plus household expenses such as bedding and clothes.
Gertrude is convinced that “God is a God of miracles,” because much has happened in her life that she considers miraculous. “I never thought I could teach,” she says. “I never thought I could be a person that mattered. I never thought I would shake hands with a muzungu” (an African term for a white person) – and yet, she has hugged and danced and learned to bead with Mary Fisher and her assistants. With her fellow beaders, Gertrude believes it is “important to take time to listen to all the stories of people, because it will change your life.” She is grateful for how her earnings enable her to help not only her own family but others, both in The ABATAKA Collection project and beyond.