The Keiskamma Trust in the tiny coastal town of Hamburg in the Eastern Cape may have had small beginnings as an embroidery venture, but it is now touching almost every aspect of this community. Apart from employment through art, it involves education, health, transferring life skills and more.

Did you know?

Hamburg was named by German settlers who came to South Africa in 1856.

The quiet coastal village of Hamburg, hardly an hour south of East London, is the home of a remarkable venture: the Keiskamma Trust's Art Project.

You’ll find its shop along the main road. Inside, you will meet the cheerful Nzali Makubalo, who presides over a delightful range of hand-embroidered and felt goods. Each cushion cover is a tiny pastiche, an insight into Xhosa life (not least their love for cattle). Every wall-hanging tells a story of life in this small town.

Their beauty may distract you from the fact that this is part of a powerful social upliftment project.

It was started in 2000 by Dr Carol Hofmeyr, who came to this quiet town with her husband to retire and create art. But she could not enjoy the peace of the place with such obvious poverty around her.

She started a plastic bag-crocheting project, then an embroidery project with a handful of unemployed women. They called it the Keiskamma Art Project after the river that winds through this tiny village to the sea.

Now more than 100 local people are involved with the project, and they have produced work on such an epic, history-telling scale that their ‘tapestries’ can be found on permanent display in museums, art galleries and even in the South African Parliament.

The art project has expanded to include ceramics, felt, beading and print-making.

It is the flagship of the Keiskamma Trust, which takes a holistic approach to uplifting the community. The trust is an umbrella body for dozens of inspiring initiatives, covering education, health, nutrition and life skills.

Volunteers coming to stay in the village have added immeasurably to the project. One person helped set up a music academy among the children; another an organic vegetable garden, yet another taught the children Capoeira – Brazilian martial arts combined with music.

And it all started with compassion, needle and thread.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Keiskamma Trust
Tel: +27 (0)40 678 1177
Email: enquiries@keiskamma.org

How to get here

Take the R72 south from East London. After about 70km you will see a turn-off to Hamburg. Drive slowly once on this road. It is navigable for sedan cars, but there are potholes. The distance from East London to Hamburg is approximately 60km, or a drive of an hour or so.

Around the area

The Keiskamma River flows into the sea, which makes for fabulous fishing, if that's your thing. If you just love wandering along an open and almost deserted beach, Hamburg offers that too.

Get around

Once you're in Hamburg, you'll be able to walk most places within the village.

Length of stay

If you love fishing and crafts, book in here for a few nights. Otherwise it makes a lovely day drive out from East London. Alternately, stay a night or two and get to know the community.

Where to stay

There are a number of guesthouses in town. Ask the Keiskamma Trust people to recommend a few.

What's happening

There are a limited number of volunteer positions at Keiskamma Trust.

Best buys

You will love the cushion covers (very light, perfect for travellers), but you'll be tempted by the wall hangings too. Or you may fall in love with a felt hat or scarf, or pixie shoes. All handmade, and reasonably priced.