Mapusha Weaving Cooperative (South Africa)

In October 2009, our Exploritas program #15863 traveled to South Africa, and they have since banded together to start something wonderful…  During their trip to Africa, they visited the Mapusha Weaving Cooperative and decided to form “Bushbabies,” a collective effort to raise money in support of this group of women.  The money they have raised so far has helped to fund advertising for this co-op.  Barrie Gleason, the point person for Bushbabies, was kind enough to write about the group’s experience with these women and their village, and the effect the visit had on them.

If you are interested in helping the Bushbabies in their efforts please contact Explore at

Bushbabies and the Mapusha Weavers Cooperative

The Mapusha Weaving Cooperative is a nonprofit cooperative of women weavers based in the village of Acornhoek in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The purpose of the cooperative is to provide the opportunity for unemployed women in the village to learn a craft and make money to support their families. More then 50 family members depend on this income.

I met the women in the cooperative as one of 17 members of a tour group sponsored by Elderhostel/Exploritas in October 2009. On the day of our visit, we met the weavers, observed work in progress, and admired the hand woven rugs and tapestries at the workshop; we also toured the tiny village where the cooperative is located to visit the nursery school and the elementary school, just a short walk away. In our encounters there, we were greatly moved by the warmth of our greeting by women and children, and impressed by the diligence of the weavers in the cooperative.

Later, in the remaining days of our travels in South Africa, the tour group coalesced around the idea of offering some support to the women weavers and their village. We began to call ourselves the “Bushbabies.” When we returned to the states, we continued our trans Atlantic conversations via email, asking the weavers for ideas about the most appropriate support. Their suggestion speaks to their strong entrepreneurial spirit! The women proposed advertising in a brochure that includes things to do and places to stay in the Panorama, Lowveld, and Kruger National Park areas, the cooperative’s neighborhood. Well respected as a resource for tour guides, the brochure lists all the local activities; an advert would encourage more visitors to the cooperative. The timing for the brochure’s most recent revision was especially propitious given the FIFA World Cup Soccer Finals, when thousands of tourists will flood the country in the summer 2010.

Serving as the stateside point person for this project, I collected funds over the holidays to cover the cost for design and printing of the advert (SEE BELOW). We raised almost double the amount required and created a savings account at a local bank for the remaining funds. An interesting side note: when the bank manager learned about this trip and the purpose for the account, she offered to set up an account with no fees!

The Bushbabies are celebrating our modest project and considering how to continue our efforts. We are fortunate to have a point person in South Africa, a devoted independent community organizer who has lived locally and worked with the Mapusha Weavers for nearly a decade. Given ongoing email conversations with her and with Exploritas travel colleagues, it seems that the cooperative enterprise has two pressing needs: first, exploring the prospect of setting up nonprofit status for the cooperative (facilitating fundraising efforts); and second, developing a marketing website that supports the cooperative’s business in a more direct and concrete way.

The women weavers have displayed pluck and courage and sustained commitment by keeping the cooperative alive and well for almost 30 years. The Bushbabies will continue to focus their energy and talent in the most appropriate ways in their support and warmly welcome other travelers to join us in these efforts.

-Barrie Gleason

One Response to “Mapusha Weaving Cooperative (South Africa)”

  1. peggy williams on 29 Mar 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I have just come back from an Exploritas South Africa trip and visited this co-operative.
    As a former teacher/librarian I was particulary moved by the visit to the creche and the school. I took three soccer balls for the school and the secretary asked me if she could give one to the creche since they had no balls.
    I met with the assigned teacher/librarian who is desperately in need of books.
    I am looking into connecting with Books for Africa (a U.S. based group)with a view to
    helping this teacher. I have no e-mail or address for the school just her name Cecilia Phankula and her phone number. I would like to continue to support this village in whatever way is appropriate. Please keep me in the loop.
    Peggy Williams, Toronto, Ontario Canada