DURBAN - Being determined, perfecting her talents and focusing on what she does best is the message of hope that makes this entrepreneur extra special.
A miniature caramel coloured bunny with floppy ears and a cheeky smile is the messenger of hope for Winnie Nene, a craft entrepreneur, who lives in one of KZN’s most resource-poor villages, Lower Molweni, near Botha's Hill.
The detail in this nursery bunny is amazing, down to a frilly pink and navy blue party dress and matching pink ears and shoes.
Nene's eyes light up when we ask her about her bunny collection. “Every bunny I make is my little friend. I never like to say goodbye to them, but everyone has helped me get my life back again.”
Once a week she catches a taxi from her home to the Centre’s craft and tourism shop Woza Moya, where she displays her latest bunny creations.
“People know we very well now, even in the taxi. They always want to see what I have been making.”
It was several years ago that Nene had reached the lowest point in her life. She had contracted HIV and suffered from a number of health problems relating to her status.
Because of ill health, she was unable to find work. “When people came to know I was sick it was like every door closed on me. I was a very good sewer. I could knit and crochet. But nobody would employ me. I cried most days. It was difficult to know which way to turn.”
But Nene, being no stranger to hardship, decided that feeling sorry for herself was not going to help her. “It’s easy to give up,” she says. “But I had always been taught as a child to be brave and keep smiling. If you say to yourself there is no hope then you won’t survive.”
H er determination not to fold under increasing physical and mental pressures paid off. Offering to become a volunteer at the Hillcrest Aids Centre, she was invited to participate in one of the Centre’s craft training workshops. At the same time, she was receiving the antiretroviral treatment she needed.
Within a few months, she was strong enough to take on her first crafting assignment, which was to make crochet squares for the yarn bombing tree project that put the Centre firmly on the international map.
“It was a very big Jacaranda tree. When I first saw it, I thought it would be impossible to cover it all,” she says. “But being part of that team and seeing that tree grow more beautiful every day , was something I can never forget. God had given me back my health. It was like having a new life.”
For the record Nene was part of a group who in 2012 were taught how to crochet and then commissioned to make more than a 100 20cm by 20cm squares. The squares were sewn together and then wrapped around the tree. In a matter of weeks Woza Moya paid out over R150 000 to the crafters. The result was one of the most beautiful trees in Africa.
It also created a new income source with corporates and local businesses wanting yarn bombing on their premises.
So quick were Nene’s hands and so adept was she at intricate designs, she was later offered the job of creating a new line of woollen bunnies for
“I was very excited. I had never seen a real bunny or a toy one, so I had to learn exactly what they looked like. I knew when I had finished the first one, that this was something I would be good at. I said to myself from now on I will call myself the Bunny Lady.”
Today making bunnies in all shapes and sizes from miniatures to children's bedtime toys, is not only something she loves to do, it is her self-made business.
“There are regular orders that I must see to and make sure they are delivered on the right dates. Part of my work is to design new bunny ideas. In the beginning I was given wool, but now with a steady income I am able to buy my own in the colours I want.”
She has also learnt how to do her own invoicing, and keep a check of money going out and coming in.
“It keeps me very busy. Sometimes I think back to the time when life was very tough. I say to people who are going through bad times. Don’t ever give up hope. I didn’t and I am so glad.”