Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Digicel Foundation boosts dying art form, empowers St Mary women

Published:Saturday | August 15, 2020 | 12:17 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer
A knitted skirt made by Valrie Lattiebouhair of the Bonnygate Women’s Group, St Mary.
A knitted skirt made by Valrie Lattiebouhair of the Bonnygate Women’s Group, St Mary.

Digicel Foundation’s 15th anniversary grant to the Bonnygate Women’s Group in St Mary is reviving the seemingly dying art forms of embroidery, crochet, and hardanger while empowering the women in the group.

The grant, which was approved in late 2019, allowed coordinator of the group Shirley Duncan to start the process of training 40 women, in March this year, with the aim of putting them on the road to earning an income.

COVID-19 interrupted the schedule, and the women were not able to assemble again until last week, at the Rio Nuevo Guest House, to resume their weekly training schedule.

In the interim, several of the women turned their attention to making masks to protect against COVID-19, turning out several hundred pieces in the process.

Seventy-year-old Norah Lowers, from Seville, St Ann’s Bay, is one of many persons from outside of Bonnygate who was accepted into the training programme. A practising farmer for several years, Lowers said she learned how to crochet and embroider at a young age but joined the group to refresh her skills. With her farming on a downturn, she hopes she will be able to earn an income from doing crocheting and embroidery.

“Is something mi did love. That’s why mi get back in it. Ah can’t sit down and do nothing, so I hope I can make something from this,” Lowers told The Gleaner.

On Tuesday, chief executive officer of Digicel Foundation Charmaine Daniels paid a visit to the second post-COVID meeting to view the progress made and was happy with what she saw.

“I love them,” Daniels said of the fabulous pieces of artwork created by the ladies. “I look at these pieces, and they tell a whole story. When you look at Irish linen and to see the stitching on the Irish linen, it’s amazing! And so I’m just very pleased with the quality of the work that they have put out,” she added.

Daniels said the Digicel Foundation loves working with groups like the Bonnygate Women’s Group, which, she said, has opened up participation to persons from neighbouring communities.

According to Daniels: “And what’s interesting about them [is that] it was a dying art form. To see women who were doing hand embroidery, crochet, and we thought that this would be good to invest in these women who were bringing back this art form. We hope that others will come on board and support projects like this, where you find women that are working for their own sustainability because that’s important to us.”

Meanwhile, Duncan, who drafted the proposal that earned the group the Digicel Foundation grant, explained that the Bonnygate Women’s Group is a splinter of the original Allside Workroom, which became defunct in 1997. She said that she was happy to be back helping the women to help themselves.

Impacting Lives

“For me, it’s really [about] impacting lives,” Duncan said. “I spend most of my life, probably over 40 years, trying to empower women because I’m of the opinion that if women are empowered, we will have a better society.”

“Women will tell you that it is this that allows them to send their children to school, buy a little house, do things, so I’m encouraged in doing things like this. What’s in it for me? It’s more the love of it. Writing a proposal and getting it funded, that is my thank you, my feel-good. The visit today by the chief to see what the women are doing, I feel elated.”

Duncan said that the Bonnygate Women’s Group represents a cottage industry and cannot fill demands for products at this time. However, there are plans to expand that include getting younger women involved in the programme.