THE SEWING SCHOOL
When a woman has the means to support herself and her family, she not only has the dignity of a secure place in her community, she also has the means to educate her children. When she can save for a rainy day, she is not at the mercy of disaster. Women in the community asked Maman Monique to start a sewing school – which was located in her home for seven years, until the new Women’s Center was built. There students learn a marketable trade and are able to pay their opportunity forward to their children. They learn the basics of sewing by hand, then master the use of a manual or treadle sewing machine and designing clothing. With the larger space at the Women’s Center, it has been possible to expand the number of students.
Tailoring is a good career in Congo, where there are virtually no factories to produce ready-made clothing. A person who is trained to be able to cut and sew garments, and who owns a hand-turned or treadle sewing machine, can earn a respectable living for herself and her family.
The students at the FEBA sewing school are young women from destitute families or no families at all, orphans and abandoned or abused girls. Some have been to school but most are illiterate; the length of the sewing program for each one depends on the level of education entering students have. Students pay very minimal fees, which are used to help feed them lunch. Most come on foot, walking miles each way; sometimes there is assistance with bus fare. Soon those who come the greatest distance will be housed in the Women’s Center’s dorm.
Each sewing student progresses through various stages: hand-sewing, learning to use a machine, cutting and creating complete garments for babies, children, and then adults. An apprenticeship of two months is followed by a 4-day exam given annually by the government division of vocational education; success is crowned with the state certificate. FEBA’s students always do very well (so the government office has encouraged FEBA to branch out to a culinary school). Graduation is a great day! Each young woman receives a manual sewing machine from the American partners to enable her to use her new skills profitably and start a new life with dignity.
The school enrolls about 50 students at a time, although they must work in relays because there are not enough sewing machines for all to practice at once. Every year, about 12 new tailors complete the program; in the last ten years, 120 have graduated!