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The Groenfontein Toy Project is a community-based initiative for the unemployed women of the Groenfontein Valley outside Calitzdorp. 

We started the project in July 2011 and currently have six trained women in our ranks. This number is set to swell with an increase in product sales.

Renee Leger, a fine arts and interior design graduate, is the creative driving force behind the project, while hubbie Paul takes care of the messy business of finance and general admin. Back at the rockface, our inspiring neighbour Mimi Linder has the toughest job of all: that of day to day production manager.  

We have set up a dedicated workshop for the project, where training and production takes place in a convivial and supportive environment. Apart from acquiring a new skill, most of our members have progressed to the point where they can produce a highly sellable product in the competitive open market, whether it be a cute donkey, rag doll or teddy. All completed products are paid for immediately. 

The main market for our handmade toys tends to be be high-end decor shops. We're currently exploring the international market, with a number of leads showing good promise. Like any business, the challenge will be to balance production with sales, supply with demand.

Apart from the regular workshops our members receive 'toy kits' to take home with them - this is central to the project as it provides ongoing employment and income, rather than an experience of 'one-offs'.

We hope to achieve several goals with the project…

1. To provide the unemployed women of our valley with a steady income. To this end we are proud to say that several of our members have already become instant breadwinners, though admittedly coming off a near zero base.

2. To teach the women a new skill that they can take forward into other initiatives. We find most of our members had some sewing experience; all they needed was a little guidance, affirmation, and a product to channel their skills and enthusiasm into. 

3. To create a meaningful and pleasant work context where people can come together several days a week without domestic distraction and the usual home stresses. It's most gratifying to witness the subtle personal growth unfolding before us. 

4. On a wider front we would like to create a working model that can be rolled out to other communities. Our main vehicle in this direction is the creation of a 'craft collective' - nurturing and encouraging a number of similar projects that are drawn together by common goal and shared resources, whether it be a dedicated website, paid marketer and overlapping sales network. 

The Groenfontein Toy Project represents what can be termed a 'social enterprise': a project with social goals (employment, income generation and skills development), but driven by business principles. In our case all labour and materials are covered directly by product sales, whereas other overheads, such as training and day to day office expenses, are kindly funded by a private trust. Although only just a little over a year on the block we are already well on the road to being self-funded. By demonstrating a workable alternative to the 'charity model' common to most community projects we hope that other poor Karoo communities can be encouraged to adopt a similar sustainable approach and we can all learn from each other. 

Can you help? You sure can… Spread the word to your friends, Like us on Facebook, recommend our products to your local shop, write an article on us, visit our gorgeous valley and see firsthand what we're doing, buy a couple of our adorable products… Every little bit helps! 

We would love to hear from you.  

Paul and Renee Leger

GROENFONTEIN TOY PROJECT T: 072 118 5008 | F: 086 689 1587 | info@toyproject.co.za | www.toyproject.co.za