Destinations, Feature Trips, Social Work, South Africa, twoOregonians Tour the Cape

Social Service Excellence: OPTIONS Care Center

October 4, 2012

It’s easy to post photos of South Africa’s gorgeous scenery; it’s natural to tell stories of delightful dinners and fine wines and sweet new friends. It’s harder to know which words and images to share when touching on troubling tensions in the land.

Communities carrying burdens. Families seeking answers.

Limited resources and widespread problems.

Recently, I was struck by a fellow landscape architect’s comment on issues of conservation, sustainability, and management: “We know the problems. We need to spend our time talking about the solutions.

In that same vein, I’m not going to spend much time talking about the problems. The world knows much of the South African story already:

Fallout from Apartheid.



Instead, I want to shine light on the good men and women sinking their life’s work into making solutions a reality in their own community.

Ted and I spent the day with our new friend Laurie, visiting Options Care Center and YFC’s Kidstop, both actively impacting lives and steering South Africans in the city of George toward a hopeful future.


Options, founded in the 1990s, addresses the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa by supporting members of the community facing HIV and pregnancy related crises, “empowering them spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.” When the director running Cape Town Options called our friend Laurie in need of a referral, the George Options location was born.

Within moments of walking through the door, we were greeted by smiling staff, volunteers, and program members of all ages – men and women – each playing roles in offering HIV/pregnancy testing, counseling, and resourcing, and participating in income-generating projects for willing artisans.

Options’ VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) program encourages community members to step over the threshhold of ignorance, to learn their HIV status, and to become educated and empowered to live a healthy life.

“A third of all pregnant women carry virus but can prevent passing it on.”

In addition, Options provides HIV testing, counseling and emotional support, and resourcing to expectant mothers and fathers, and offers pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding education for HIV positive mothers which increases the likelihood of babies being delivered to live an HIV-free life.

Their pantry items – clothing, toiletries and equipment – are available to help family members of all ages, and their “Learn to Earn” program offers engagement and ongoing practical support beyond emergency handouts.

Two of the real gems among their programs are jewelry and greeting-card-making businesses generating skill development and income for support group members.

Our friend Laurie (L) with one of the lovely Options staff members overseeing the Amacici project

Amacici (meaning “The Earrings” in the Xhosa language) is a program equipping women with resources to create, package, and sell beaded earrings, bracelets, and necklaces in order to support their families.

The Options Card Workshop runs in a similar way: unemployed single moms and women involved with the HIV/AIDS support group use unique findings and supplies to create one-of-a-kind greeting cards, and the sales from their work are enough in cases to pay the bills, put food on the table, keep a roof over their children’s heads, and give them confidence in their challenging lives.

Ted and I popped in with Laurie to say hello to four of the women busily crafting in the workshop.

Liesel was a cut-up, all teases and jabs and paparazzi jokes. And on top of her skills as comedienne, she could make a mean greeting card. (Move over, Hallmark!)

Phulama’s gorgeous grin came out as we cracked jokes; all the while she snipped away, creating silhouettes of strong women wearing African headdresses of feathers and beads.

At the end of the table, Nadia worked quietly, diligently.

Katie snipped white and black stripes of paper to craft cards adorned with iconic African zebras. Here in a land where wildlife is seemingly on display on every corner, would you believe she’d never seen a zebra with her own eyes?

A donor changed that: not too long ago, the owner of a game lodge sponsored a trip for the women of the Options Card Workshop to leave the city and experience the thrill of seeing African animals out in nature.

Katie smiled widely at the end of her story. Now, when she sits for long hours crafting creatures on cards, she knows the real, breathing, moving animals she mimics with paper.

Donors in the community gift resources to Options. Dried, used tea bags are collected from local guest houses, cafes, homes. Plants and flowers and paper and beads make their way to the supply chest.

Each finished card is sold for 20 rand: once four rand ($0.47) is deducted for the cost of supplies, 14 rand ($1.64) goes back to the artists. On a good run, these ladies can craft 60 cards in a day. On a string of those days, they can pay their personal bills for the month. On a series of months and years, their lives shift.

Aside from our few cards mailed off to Oregon (and a few thank-yous sent inside South Africa), these ladies’ pieces have been sold in Germany, Canada, and the USA, and they’re always looking to find more individuals, retail outlets, and companies worldwide interested in supporting their life-sustaining work.

Katie, Phulama, me, Nadia, Liesel, and Ted

Like Katie at the end of her zebra story, I smiled, too. When we bought cards after our visit and sent a few home to friends, I knew the real, breathing, lovely women behind the paper artwork.

There is spirit and soul in the work of their hands.

There is hope for their futures.

There is a way: health, stability, creativity, pride.

These are the solutions worth talking about, my friends: the people of South Africa bringing Options to the world.

Retailers and private parties interested in purchasing? Donors wishing to contribute? Please contact Janet at for more information on the Options Card Workshop and Amacici jewelry project.

This post is part of our €œtwoOregonians Tour the Cape series featuring quintessential and offbeat South African experiences, one-of-a-kind accommodations and beautiful B&Bs, respectful wildlife programs, social service projects, and landscape photography from the South African Cape.

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  • Reply Annette Mangle October 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Since I volunteer at the local PCC this story was close to my heart. What a great way for these women to support themselves. I want to buy some of their jewelry and cards.
    Thanks for sharing about the REAL people in your stories.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Annette, we were definitely thinking of friends like you who’ve shared so much love and care with families in Oregon communities. It’s beautiful to witness the same themes at work all over the world. So glad you appreciated hearing about these women : )

  • Reply Edna October 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    What a wonderful piece. Thank you for writing about the solutions and not just the problems, very uplifting — and beautifully written! Hope to read more of these stories as you travel South Africa.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Thank you so much, Edna. I hope to be able to share more stories like this one!

    What say you?