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Helping Rhinos with JDB - 3

Buy a Bag, Empower a Woman, Change a Community, Save Species

February 8, 2018

Today The Living Desert made possible a small but important change that furthers conservation, just by buying some extremely artistic batik bags! I’m not one that is quick to tears, but I definitely welled up a bit today! Okay, more than a bit.

We do conservation in many ways at The Living Desert. However, an important aspect of conservation that is frequently overlooked among the public is the importance of stimulating sustainable livelihoods for local communities, near to where wildlife thrives. In my experience, conservation cannot exist where poverty thrives. When you are extremely poor, you are challenged to just feed your family – particularly as here in South Africa, where over 27% of the population is unemployed, and at least as many are underemployed.

For the last year, I have been working with JOEN Art and Bags in Ba-Phalaborwa (very near Kruger National Park) to expand their business making and selling high quality batiked bags and wall hangings. Two weeks ago on behalf of some of the employees of The Living Desert, I purchased almost a thousand dollars of product from JOEN.

Sylvia and Coleens, mother and son, Director and Manager of JOEN, are two people who you cannot help but immediately respect and admire. They fled the chaos of Zimbabwe to move to South Africa and make a new life. Their kindness and skills are unmatched, and I feel lucky to call them my friends.

In any case, at the end of a day of surveying, our social science research team went back to see them and learn how to batik. I was shocked as we drove up to their small three room 300 square feet building, in which they live, sleep, cook, and make their craftworks.

When we arrived, there were two workmen who were building what turned out to be a new studio that almost doubled the footprint of the building. I asked them, given the close timing of our purchase and the construction, why the building was being so dramatically expanded now. Coleens paused for a moment, puzzled, as if he was stating the obvious, and replied “Because of you!

This will allow us to hire more people to help us greatly expand our business!” They employ about five people now, and JOEN may be able to at least double their staff in the next year, if all goes well.

So, it seems that we have helped to expand the number of people who are gainfully employed, just by buying beautiful and functional works of art here in South Africa – and dramatically so!

What we buy matters, as it can change lives and further conservation. Please consider where your products come from and strive to make purchases that help sustainable artisans working and living near important conservation areas. You can change lives – of both humans and threatened species – as with JOEN in the Greater Kruger Landscape.

Please check out their work at We are in the process of arranging to be able to sell their amazing artwork in The Living Desert’s gift shops. For now, you could travel to South Africa and buy them directly from these lovely people!

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