by Libby James
North Forty News
Waddie Raisi grew up in Zimbabwe, one of five children in a home without a father. There was no money for toys. “Why not make your own toys,” an uncle told him. And that’s just what Waddie did. Using wire and stringing tiny beads, he created a piece of classic Zimbabwean art. He chose to create a model car that became a toy he played with for hours, as so many little boys do. Eventually he became skillful enough with wire and beads to create a whole array of wire toys. Zimbabwe has a history of fine beadwork traditionally created by men. Waddie soon discovered that his work was in demand and he could earn money by selling it.
Life continued to be tough for his family. At the age of 13, Waddie left his hometown, Harare, and went alone to Victoria Falls, a tourist area where he hoped to make enough money to support himself. In addition to being a skilled artisan, Waddie knew how to entertain. He danced and sang and played the miramba and mbira, a small instrument similar to a thumb piano.
In 2008, he befriended a young American traveler and her sister who were stranded in Victoria Falls, unable to exchange money during a critical time for currency in Zimbabwe. In search of adventure, the sisters had made an 18-month trip around the U.S. together while still teenagers. Now they were exploring Africa, feeling their fearless way, never sure what might happen around the next corner.
Out of the kindness of his heart, Waddie helped them out of their money troubles and sent them on their way. It wasn’t until the sisters made a return trip to Victoria Falls a few months later that Elly and Waddie realized that they were more than just friends. In 2009 they married and until two years ago continued to live in Zimbabwe, becoming parents to Tanyaradzwa, now five, and Fiona, three.
In 2015, after Waddie’s long wait for a visa, the family moved to Fort Collins, Elly’s hometown. And with them they brought their passion: Zimbo Arts Co-op, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating change in Zimbabwe by making employment and education possible for those most in need in the country.
It was this passion to help others, so important to Elly and Waddie, that attracted them to each other and continues to fire the way they live their lives today. “If each of us just does a tiny bit to make the world better, it’s enough,” Elly says. “I always get more in return than I give.”
In Fort Collins, Waddie went to work for a landscape firm, doing his best to find time to continue his artwork. Recently he founded his own company, Hollyood Lawn Service. He still loves to make music in Fort Collins and the surrounding area and is a popular feature of International Day at Colorado State University. When time allows, he picks up a pair of pliers and some wire and creates a parrot, an elephant or a model Volkswagen, glittering with colorful beadwork.
Elly devotes her time to parenting and to nurturing Zimbo Arts Co-op. Waddie’s sister, Yolanda, manages the enterprise in Zimbabwe where they have an apprentice program, workshop and center for creating a huge variety of beaded figures. Seven women, eligible because of their struggle to earn a living for their families, are currently participating in the apprentice program. All their materials are free, as is daycare for those who need it. Each woman receives a stipend of $10 and two healthy meals a day while they learn the art of beading, for so long a domain of only men in Zimbabwe. The Co-op also sponsors an after-school sports program for local children.
The women are paid as they complete projects, and their work is shipped to the U.S. where the Raisis market it online at Zimbo Arts Co-op and by making the rounds of craft shows during the season. It is on display at their website https://zimboarts.org/, on Facebook at https://facebook.com/zimboarts and also on Instagram.