By: Anna Majavu
The 40-year-old Children’s Movement, established during apartheid to help children organise themselves into a community-based movement, is making strides in teaching children to cook using the slow cooker Wonder Bags. The movement has made several thousand Wonder Bags since 2013, which sell for about R250 each. Each of the movement’s 35 community groups is supplied with a sewing machine and coordinators. Parents and children are trained to sew all the different products.
In Cape Town, the coordinators sew Wonder Bags every week so that they can build up a stock to sell, said movement director Shanaaz Viljoen. They also run a co-operative and when they sell their Wonder Bags, the profit is ploughed back into the co-operative which helps them buy more material and foam. Chante Klein, 21, grew up in the 5000-member Children’s Movement and is now one of their coordinators.
They tested the Wonder Bags and found that they saved three units per meal cooked, which could save households about R300 per month in electricity costs, said Klein. “Our first aim was to see that each child had a Wonder Bag in their home and knew how to cook using it. That was to prevent fires, save energy, and part of our struggle against climate change,” said Charmaine Dodgen, who is the sewing coordinator at the Children’s Movement.
They use sagex foam to insulate the bags because this melts down into a ball if the bag catches fire, instead of the sponge that is used by the government-manufactured Wonder Bags which is flammable. Neither the movement nor its co-operative are set up to produce thousands of Wonder Bags. But because they are often approached to fill large orders of 8000 Wonder Bags, they are now looking at ways they can share this workload with some of the groups they have trained.
They recently trained 50 homeless people from Maitland who were currently making the Wonder Bags and selling them, said Viljoen. “So, if we can get groups to make 2000 each for large orders and everybody contributes, then everybody gets something out of it, not just us,” she added. They are critical of the company which recently trademarked the Wonder Bag as their own, saying there are thousands of people making Wonder Bags in South Africa, and have been for decades. “The trademarking is unacceptable. This is people’s knowledge, and someone has basically hijacked it. Fifty-years ago already, there was a doctor who encouraged using Wonder boxes to minimise fires from cooking in informal settlements,” said Children’s Movement founder and former political prisoner, Marcus Solomon.
He himself initiated the Children’s Movement Wonder Bag after giving one he bought decades ago to a pattern maker from the Swiss Village Network so that she could take it apart and make a new pattern for the movement to use. The Children’s Movement also sews re-usable sanitary towels, laptop bags, school bags, pencil cases and re-usable shopping bags. It receives commissions from local non-profit organisations to produce sanitary kits for vulnerable children.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it manufactured a giant Wonder Bag that could slow cook food in 40 litre pots being used at the 16 community kitchens set up across the country. The child members are not only trained to use the Wonder Bags, but also to plant small vegetable gardens at home, and to recycle waste in the community, said Gugulethu-based Nombulelo Ndlela, the environment co-ordinator. “We train them that whatever they took from the garden, they must cook using the Wonder Bag,” said Ndlela. “So, the Wonder Bag is not just a cooking thing. There is a whole story that comes with the Wonder Bag,” said Dodgen.