The needle rhythmically pierces cloth, the thread bringing carefully measured fabric together. Slowly, the disjointed pieces take shape.
This is a process the Borana women have seen through from beginning to end many times. It’s why they joined the New Hope Sewing Project in the Kariobangi slum of Nairobi, Kenya: to learn new skills and turn those skills into profitable work.
Along the way, something else has emerged – a close-knit community created through shared joys, sorrows and everyday life.
Finding a purpose
That is what Nadeema* found. A vivacious mother of five, she smiles proudly as she steps through the embroidered curtain into her home. The fragrant smells of spices from pots boiling outside perfume the air. She displays her prized possession: a sewing machine tucked in the corner.
Nadeema was able to buy it using the profits from her growing sewing business. She’s not the only one; several of the women have earned enough to afford their own machines.
She was a member of the original sewing project, begun in the well-known Nairobi slum, Kibera, in 1995. Nadeema and her husband later moved across the city to Kariobangi and when the project relocated there in 2006, she asked to be a part of the new initiative.
Soon her skills were in demand. She was sewing not only for her family, but also for her neighbors. Eventually she began earning enough from sewing to support her family – invaluable considering her husband has been without employment for several years.
Nadeema’s infectious laugh rings out as she recalls her first time using a sewing machine. It literally walked across the floor, carrying her with it. She values the skills she’s learned, but it’s the times of laughter and fellowship she cherishes.
That they may have life
From those early days, the project has grown into a group of about 10 to 12 women, who attend sewing sessions at the Ark School several times a week. The school, the sewing project and an adult literacy program are part of the Ark Self Help Community Project that ministers to the Borana people living in Kariobangi. The Borana, who have roots in Ethiopia, have a significant presence in Kenya.
Warm greetings ring out, as women trickle through the gate. They head for the sewing project’s small room, passing the classrooms filled with young children. Inside, Rose Atieno (pictured) quietly assists a woman who is cutting fabric for placemats. Rose, a former student, has moved into the role of instructor. Slim, graceful and poised, she speaks with a conviction rooted in years of watching the women develop their skills.
“It’s something I’m passionate about,” she says. “The work they do here is financially and economically empowering.”
She has also had a front-row seat to the spiritual development of many of the women. Once a week she leads storytelling sessions, methodically working through the Bible. A blackboard covers one wall, and written on it are the words from John 10: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Rose realized that by writing verses out on the blackboard, the women could refer to them throughout the week.
Nadeema and the other women relish such times, as many of them are either new Christians or are just learning about the Bible for the first time. Rose believes that teaching Scripture has been good for her. “It helps me too,” she says. “I have internalized it from the very beginning and I really enjoy it.”
*name has been changed