Did you know?
Most of the people making wire and feather angels never had a paying job before this one.
Along a dusty desert track in the Great Karoo is a disused railway siding called Vondeling. There is a primary school, a small church hall and not much else. About 30 families live here, and until 2006 it seemed a place entirely without hope.
But the Vondeling crafts project that started here has lifted income and spirits, and the people here have a new sense of pride. Vondeling has become the angel factory of the Karoo, and the angel-makers love receiving visitors.
Inside a small prefab building you’ll find a rough horseshoe of tables where 13 women and two men sit working, chatting and laughing. Above their heads, on the walls, on the tables, hanging from every conceivable place, there are angels.
They are large and small, clothed with felt, crocheted wire or wool; winged and adorned with beads and sparkles.
Every angel has added blessings to this tiny place and these people – many of whom had never had a job before.
Estaline Olyn, one of the project’s leaders, is very proud that this tiny community rose to the challenge when they were offered the opportunity to learn angel-making from a tiny Port Elizabeth consultancy called Craft Partners.
'Here the project took root,' says Olyn. 'When the time came, we stood up and were counted.'
The full name of the project is Vondeling Optel Craft, which literally means 'foundling' or 'picked-up craft', because they started the project by looking at what lay around them.
'We picked up old tins, bits of wood, you know, just things you pick up.'
From this they have progressed to selling angels as far away as Norway, as well as to upmarket retail stores around the country.
Best of all is that they live and work harmoniously together. As grandfather Jan Klaassens says: 'The very best thing of every day is to be able to laugh, and be surrounded by love and peace.'
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
The nearest airport is at George, and from there, it's less than two hours' drive (about 150km) to Willowmore. Vondeling is only 48km from there. To get to Willowmore, take the N12 from George over the Outeniqua Pass, then turn right onto the N9 towards Graaff-Reinet. After about 90 km, you'll get to Willowmore. Head to the tourism office in the main road − they will direct you to Vondeling.
Best time to visit
Visit on week days, when you'll find the workers creating their beautiful angels.
Around the area
You're on the edge of the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, part of a World Heritage Site. It's well worth a few days' visit.
Length of stay
This is a lovely half-day trip from Willowmore, which is an attractive little town on the edge of the Baviaanskloof wilderness.
Where to stay
Willowmore has a number of excellent options, including an historic hotel that used to be the parsonage.
What to eat
Sophie's Choice in Willowmore serves gigantic cappuccinos and excellent light meals.
You can buy angels direct from Vondeling Optel Crafts. The angels vary in price, but are not expensive.