Winiwa Adam of Mtsiriza slums in Lilongwe remembers how she used to struggle to make ends meet and feed her five children. While some of her neighbours had plentiful food to throw away, her children turned into beggars by looking for food in the bins around the neighbourhood.
“If there is one person who does not want to remember his or her past then it’s me. My past was very terrible. I lived a miserable life and I lost hope that I can live a good life,” says the 32-year-old Adam.
However, all this is history as Adam is now able to feed her family. Every month she earns about K40 000 (US$96) from her new tailoring business. Indeed, she has used her sewing machine to stitch her poverty.
Last year, Adam was one of 30 women who were picked randomly and trained in tailoring by African Enterprise, an organisation that is championing women’s financial independence.
“I was lucky to be among the women who were trained in tailoring last year. I spent 10 months learning how to use a sewing machine. Upon finishing, I was given a machine which I am using up to now. I now own a tailoring shop at Mtsiriza and I am a model to other women,” she says.
Adam is not the only beneficiary of the African Enterprise project. Many other women have passed through the same route and they have managed to conquer poverty.
In 1983, a dream was hatched in Zimbabwe-based Malawian Rachel Steven Lungu. Her opportunity to live in different places of Malawi and abroad helped her appreciate the plight of women in Malawi. Thus, she decided to do something to rescue such struggling women.
It was until 2002 when Lungu’s dream materalised. With K75 000, she was able to start the project which has now changed lives of women in Lilongwe. The women are picked from different churches with the guidance of their pastors.
“We started this project in 2002 on a humble note. We were using a garage at Area 45 in Lilongwe as a classroom for tailoring. In 2007, we moved to a rented house in Likuni. And when I realised that this was a serious project with great impact on vulnerable women, we bought a house at Gulliver which is used as a tailoring school now,” says Lungu.
The women are trained for free and the training starts from February to November every year.
“When I introduced this project, together with the board of African Enterprise, we agreed to target prostitutes by training them in tailoring so that they can leave prostitution and engage in normal businesses. But later we thought of changing our approach to cater for vulnerable women so that they can help themselves,” says Lungu.
National team leader for African Enterprise Enoch Phiri says it takes a minimum of K8 million to train 30 women in tailoring every year.
“We train the women for free; hence, what matters is not the amount we invest in them, but the outcome these women get because once these women graduate, they are not the same. They graduate from poverty to financial independence. This project is changing communities because the trained women are able to pay school fees for their children. Even the issue of food is no longer a problem.
“Since we started this programme, a lot of vulnerable women have defeated poverty and they are financially stable. Some of the women have managed to mould bricks and build good houses. These are women who earlier could not afford decent accommodation. We are happy to see this progress,” says Phiri.
He explains that women are vital to the development of any community; hence, when they are financially stable, their community can easily develop.
“When a woman is financially independent it means she will have peace of mind. And peace of mind is the beginning of a good family as it helps them contribute positively to the development of the community,” says Phiri.
The project uses money from well-wishers in foreign companies. One of the well-wishers is a Qatar-based engineer Water Buydens who contributes 50 percent of the money. Buydens says it has been his wish to take part in transforming the lives of women in Africa, hence his contribution.
“When I met Enoch [Phiri] in Europe, he told me about problems of most of the Malawian women. I told him that I will help the training of these women in tailoring with 50 percent of the total cost of the training,” says Buydens.
Buydens says he is hopeful that someday, poverty among Malawian women will be a thing of the past.
“I came to Malawi to donate the sewing machines to 30 women who have graduated in tailoring training. I hope that next time I come here, poverty levels among women will have dropped,” says Buydens.