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Proudly Macassar Pottery raectivates lives

People are not numbers. If you were told that the area where Proudly Macassar Pottery operates from has a particularly high incidence of child neglect, you would be tempted to see the numbers. Not the people.

Macassar may be an isolated island in terms of its social engineering, but people are living here. And these people – particularly the young ones – are discovering that they can literally talk to the ground, and that the ground tends to answer back!

The reason for this is that clay is a particularly suitable element to work with when trying to help young people re-activate their dreams and process their trauma. Every aspect of the ceramic process can be applied. Life lessons indeed abound at Proudly Macassar Pottery.

Johan is a life coach, potter and journalist. Being active in youth and community development has exposed him to the many difficulties disadvantaged people in South Africa face on a daily basis.

In a place where most cannot read or write properly, many turn to a life of crime. When Johan’s friend, a musician named Trevor Sampson, decided to transform what was once a tavern and dangerous hotspot in Macassar into a music school to revive the community, Johan jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

He joined the project early in 2010 and has since built on the pioneering work done by an enterprising Korean potter, DoWon. The pottery has since developed product lines (it manufactures clay flutes and drums), and has started marketing these locally and internationally.

The business model is one where young people are given the opportunity to get back on their feet and find their passion. They are trained in basic pottery skills and involved in all spheres of the business, with the aim of either starting their own enterprises, or being absorbed into the formal labour market.

The best teacher, however, is the clay. Johan often asks his interns: “What is the clay telling you?” The reason is that through an active learning experience, the apprentices find that their frustrations become visible in their work. The clay tends to mirror the emotional state of the potter. It provides an outlet for frustration, but also teaches valuable lessons.

The pottery’s premier product is the manufacturing of a local version of the Nigerian Udu – a clay percussion instrument. The udu serves as metaphor for how earth – the brown stuff we tread under foot – can be transformed into a magical musical instrument. Likewise, marginal peoples and communities can be transformed into something vibrant and life-giving.

No wonder that the udu has also become the mascot of the pottery’s movement to address issues around poverty and injustice, called thinkUDU.

Johan gives young people the gift of hope by providing a forum for them to raise themselves up and create a sustainable lifestyle. The pottery creates marketable products that come with a positive message baked in.

Walking into the pottery, visitors often remark how the apprentices seem to be filled with hope for their future. This is the immediate social impact, where previously unemployed and drug-using young people are learning marketable skills.

The second level of impact is the money trail. These young people often support their households with their income. They live at the bottom of the scale, where there wages are stretched to support a family living on the edge.

Thirdly, the pottery is slowly becoming an icon of hope in the community, as extended families are slowly adoption it as “their” pottery, where their own children are working. This builds confidence in the community’s ability to solve its own problems.

Recent successes include projects such as Casseroles for Macassar, where Johan and his team secured sponsorship of 50 casserole dishes which were filled with meat and given as gifts of hope to families in the community during the Easter season.

UnLtd South Africa is a nonprofit organisation that identifies and supports social entrepreneurs in South Africa. We do this by awarding grants and opening doors for people who have innovative entrepreneurial ideas that aim to have a positive social impact.

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