A couple of months ago, Just Fair Trade’s Sarah, Kerry and Louise headed off to London for the Traidcraft AGM and conference. While they expected to get new insights into the work this pioneering fair trade company are doing to promote and support producers in some of the most challenge parts of the world, they hadn’t expected to be quite so blown away by the story of a small community handcrafting candles in the African kingdom of Swaziland.
Traidcraft take up the story:
These highly decorative candles are handmade in the small African Kingdom of Swaziland using an age-old technique. But the craftspeople who create these beautiful pieces live with a terrible burden – Swaziland has the highest national HIV rate in the world – it affects a quarter of the population. And there is a stark gender imbalance: 31% of women are HIV positive compared to 20% of men, according to UNICEF.
Up to five of Swazi Candles’ employees died every year until they started a new health programme. A mobile clinic goes to the factory and does health checks and provides counselling. Condoms are promoted to everyone at the organisation’s headquarters. Ruthie Sikhondze supervises the workers who add veneers to the candles in the factory. Ruthie was married to Mossa who died of HIV last year – she is now the sole provider for her children. Ruthie is also HIV positive; thankfully none of her four children are affected.
When our team visited Swazi Candles’ factory, Ruthie told us she enjoys working for the organisation and appreciates the support she is given. If she is short of food or money, she speaks to her employers who help her out. Duma, a counsellor working for Swazi Candles, arranged to take Ruthie to a workshop for a week were she learnt how to look after her health, including simple things like the importance of eating well and taking medication regularly. And when Ruthie is ill, Swazi Candles is understanding and accept that she cannot work due to her condition.
Ruthie’s story is featured in this powerful video made by Traidcraft on a recent visit to Swaziland:
Unsurprisingly, the Just team returned from London determined to do what they could to promote these amazing products in the run up to Christmas 2015. As a result, we have a huge selection of candles in stock, and we think they’d be the perfect gift for the host of any Christmas gatherings you’re invited to this year! Please help us to support the transformational work Swazi Candles are doing!
Adapted with permission from an article that appeared in the November Traidcraft bulletin.