JUDY LAMBRECHT (47) was born in Johannesburg, where she grew up before moving to Cape Town for her high school years. She is married to Philip, an entrepreneur, and they have two daughters aged 17 and 15. For 10 years, Judy has been helping vulnerable Cape Town women make a living through creative craft and sewing projects. JILL BADER asks her about the highs, the lows and the why…
Cape Town crafts facilitator Judy Lambrecht: ‘I simply aim to help these ladies put bread on the table, but they’ve ended up supporting me through my own tough times’ | Photo: Tonya Hester
’I USED TO RUN A CLOTHING COMPANY but I’ve always been drawn to community volunteer projects, so when my children started to grow up a bit, I gravitated towards Westlake United Church Trust, a Cape Town organisation running a range of support and upliftment programmes.
Initially I ran a sewing workshop once a week but it’s grown over the years into the Westlake Upliftment Project, a daily set-up where local disadvantaged ladies can produce items to sell using various skills such as sewing, beading and knitting. A core of about 10 ladies are involved, plus others who we call in when there’s extra work, and we get as many orders as possible so that they can earn a living and put bread on the table. That’s all I’m really trying to achieve.
The craft room has become a place for them to come and be with other women and create. They get paid per item they make. We try to get orders of at least 20 items or create things to sell at local shops. I try to use what we’ve got. When people donate buttons, we make necklaces from them. We make dolls, bags, tactile items for remedial teaching, we’ve dabbled in all sorts of things. Some things make more money than others and then we can put some back into the trust to pay for things and upgrade a bit. We’re currently quite busy making up toys for Littlebo, a company which takes a child’s drawing and makes it into a stuffed toy, which is complicated but stimulating.
I really love being here. This is such a wonderful group of women, always encouraging and amazing. Last June I came home from a party, went to bed and woke up in hospital having had a number of seizures. It turned out to be a brain tumour which required a long op to remove. The ladies were behind me the whole way. They made me tea and came to my house, they were so supportive. They brought me a teddy, made especially for me with fabric they’d sourced themselves. They’ve taught me so much about human kindness and are just really, really special women.
I was absolutely terrified going into the op, I remember just lying there while my daughter Kyla prayed for me, but luckily my tumour turned out to be benign. A recent check up revealed it has grown back a little so I’m currently undergoing daily radiation which isn’t great and makes me nauseous but I’m not worried. I can’t do anything about it. I feel God’s got me, I’m part of a bigger picture, and however it unfolds I’ve got to get through it. People have given me such support and it’s made me realise it’s so important to be kind. Just look to be kind, it’s the way to live. I could drive myself to my radiation appointments in Rondebosch but I have a roster of friends who insist on taking me and waiting for me. It’s a huge commitment on their part and I feel I’m being taught all the time about kindness and focusing on big things, not sweating the small stuff like getting irritated in traffic. Let it go, it’ll all be ok in the end!
‘This is not just a craft room it’s a therapy room,’ says Jenna Hill, who has worked for many years with Judy. ‘While we’re sewing things up, God is putting together the broken pieces of our lives.’
Why do I do this work? I like knowing I’ve made a little bit of an improvement in someone’s life. It’s not necessarily all the time as the work ebbs and flows, but with it they are better off than they would have been. And in fact this year has been amazing for orders – I’ve never been through an invoice book so fast!
Of course there are difficulties – it’s a continual struggle to get people to commit to coming regularly to work because so many things happen at home to keep them away. One of the greatest frustrations is that I’ve never managed to empower the crafters to find their own work. But we’re dealing with sickness, poverty and human hearts, and we have lots of success stories, including a group of Congolese refugees some years ago who came on a sewing course with us and all found jobs afterwards.
I love being here because I’ve seen so many answers to prayer here. It’s where miracles happen every day.’