Waking up to 25 degrees has definitely got its advantages, but recognizing that those temperatures also mean the land is dry, the soil is in dire need of watering and the crops are suffering may have you rethinking your momentary sigh of relief.
Our first morning came quickly since we had arrived so late the previous night. None the less, the team was anxious to get started and so up and out we were, at 9am. Steve Lombo, the Chair of our Advisory Board in Kenya came to greet us at our hotel first thing in the morning, before our day began, and of course Winnie, our Project Administrator was also there, bright and early, eager to begin the project visits.
Kawangware Community Tailoring Shop, was our first stop on the day’s agenda. The school was almost full when we arrived, a very rare thing to see since the upheaval caused by the elections last fall. Monica was outside, anxious to greet us and so our visit began.
After our own introductions, each of the students stood to introduce themselves and give us a brief synopsis of why they were there; what drew them to enroll in Monica’s tailoring school and what they see for their future.
One student, 25-year old Jennifer, stood out for me.
Young, (as most of the students are), married and not living at home with her parents as many of the others were, Jennifer spoke of the empowerment of women, women’s rights, that now is the time for all women to step up and out of the shadows of men. She longs for the day when all women can stand tall, walk proud and no longer fear the demoralization that so often happens – on a daily basis here. For one day, the sex-trade, to be a distant memory.
Jennifer lives right in Kawangware, which is beyond the scope of most of our Canadian friend’s imagination. The streets are not paved, the homes and shops are huts, at best, many of which have little or no electricity. Since the upheaval of the fall elections, many of these buildings have been badly vandalized if not burned completely to the ground. It is what she has always known, which is perhaps part of the reason that she is not a bitter and angry individual, but rather, sports one of the biggest smiles and jocular laugh we have heard all day.
Jennifer has been enrolled at the school for only six months. She is a strong supporter of women’s rights, women in business and in society and in the support of one’s self. It is her wish for, “Every woman out there, to step out and believe in their passion.”
One of the greater needs today at the Kawangware Community Tailoring Shop is for constant and reliable electricity. The back of the shop is nearly always in a state of near darkness. Their ancient Singer treadmill Sewing machines have most definitely been through the ringer and with the recent vandalization in the village, the entire contents of the shop had to be packed up and moved – practically overnight to prevent theft – and virtually, the end to the shop. However, in doing so in such a hasty manner, many of the machines were damaged – not beyond repair, but damaged none the less. Most are missing the post on the tops where the thread is poised. Others are in need of that little spike-type wheel that lays beneath where the needle is placed, that feeds the material through properly. There is a need for new tables for the machines, and new stools – as many were also damaged in the move.
The level of quality that these young men and women produce is far beyond the quality of clothing you would purchase in our own daily shops, and still available at a fraction of the price that they are worth.
After a visit to the school, we traveled further into the village to visit in Monica’s shops where we chose material for her employees to create for us, medium sized travel bags. The visit was a not marred by any uneasiness, though we were certainly the centre of attention. Karen distributed Canada pins to the employees and to the students that were donated by MP Gord Brown’s office and hats to the employees in Monica’s Tailoring shop that were donated by Hakim Optical. Everyone was overjoyed by these small tokens of our appreciation for allowing us to visit and learn of way that we might be able to help them.