African Diary: Epilogue Townships & Tea Bags

by Bob Sparrow

2013-05-19 23.49.35

Jill Heyes

If you’ve read my ‘African Diary’ series you’ll know that I wrote briefly about the ‘townships’ or shanties that line the freeway for miles outside of Cape Town and throughout South Africa.  These shanties were created principally in the Apartheid Era, which ran from the end of the 1800s until the early 1990s (yes, 1990s!), when blacks were evicted from their property and relocated to the shanties .

An accurate count of how many people are living in shanties today in South Africa is difficult, but it’s somewhere in the 8-10 million range.  They live in shacks made of tin, wood and brick, have little water, which is of poor quality, sewage is an on-going problem, electricity, if they have it, is achieved illegally through exposed power wires, presenting a constant danger to inhabitants, especially children.  Schools are ill-equipped and inadequate and many children end up dropping out and joining  gangs, which are prevalent among the teens living there.  Believe me, it makes one feel pretty grateful for what we have and very sympathetic to the plight of the shanty inhabitants.

One person who saw all this and decided to do something about it was Jill Heyes, who came to South Africa from England and lives in Hout Bay near DSC00168Cape Town.  Jill taught crafts at a local church and regularly passed by the shanties on her way to and from home and was horrified at the poverty she saw.  One day while having tea with a friend, they were discussing the living conditions in the shanties and trying to figure out what one person could possibly do to help.  Her friend looked at the tea bag in her cup and got an idea.

Original T Bag Designs was born.  Jill started a business making crafts out of discarded tea bags and in the process hired people out of the shanties to create and make these crafts.  That was over 10 years ago, today her business is thriving.  Several who have come to work for her have now earned enough money to buy a home and move out of the shanties.  You can see a short video on Jill’s inspirational story on You Tube at the following link:

You can also visit their website at:   and buy something!  Then you’ll know that you helped create one of those great smiles that you see in the pictures on their website.

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