It was a cool day in the village of Lulanzi on March 4th 2019, when local residents Zaina Kilovele and Usia Luvinga received the gift of solar lighting for their homes from Vikapu Bomba.
The two women have demonstrated profound support for one another and for their families, while redefining what it means to work together as an elder and a younger person in the dynamics of the community.
Zaina was likely born between 1939 and 1949. She recalls learning to weave many years ago, after the birth of her second child but the details are elusive. She struggles with her memory, a sleep disorder and the physical limitations brought on by time and years of manual labour. However difficult the circumstances, her desire to provide for her granddaughter and enable her to go to school, drive Zaina to work hard each day.
Usia is 38 years old. She was born in 1981 in the village of Lulanzi. At a young age, Usia learned basket weaving from her mother; she learned how to select reeds, how to clean and dry them and how to weave them into flawless baskets. Usia’s children, parents and siblings depend on her weaving to sustain the family. So despite a medical condition that prevents her from working for more than three consecutive hours, Usia still creates some of the most beautiful baskets seen in the community.
Upon joining Vikapu Bomba, it was clear that Zaina’s baskets lacked the refined quality necessary to make it to market. This however would not hold her back. Zaina took it upon herself to learn from Usia and began to accompany her to the market to procure reeds.
While it is uncommon for an elder person to learn from someone younger, Zaina recognized Usia’s talent and Usia welcomed the opportunity to offer assistance. This marked the beginning of a unique and rewarding relationship.
Zaina learned how to select the best reeds for weaving, to improve her drying process and to cut the reeds. In time, she enriched her whole process of weaving the base—one of the most difficult aspects of basket weaving.
Usia took the time to work closely with Zaina who accepted instruction, starting over-and-over each time Usia pointed out a flaw or corrected her work.
Five years have passed since Usia and Zaina started weaving together, and their lives have changed for the better. Zaina has perfected the art of weaving and both women have increased their productivity. They support one another, converse and laugh together as they weave—and Zaina no longer falls asleep while working.
The gift of solar lighting is both to honour the hard work of Zaina and Usia on this International Women’s Day, and to illuminate their relationship in hopes that other women will collaborate, learn from one another and strengthen their community.
This is the first time either woman have light in their homes. Usia says the light will enable her to work in the evenings and allow her to read her bible before bed. Zaina is happy her granddaughter will be able to study after dark. Both women will benefit from continued productivity after sunset and an improved quality of life.