HeForShe champion helping Mathare women sew up slum life

Women at Transformer Initiative display some of the clothes made in Mathare, Nairobi, on May 4, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Beneficiaries say they have been able to use the skills to earn incomes and meet their family needs.
  • Jack Owuor says the death of his mother and sister from chronic illnesses drove him to start the initiative.

On a narrow tarmac road deep inside Mathare slums in Nairobi, the sound of sewing machines can be heard.

It gets louder as we advance closer to a tiny makeshift room in the Mathare 4A area. And as we make our way in, serious work is underway. A group of women are busy sewing.

Some of them are apprentices, while others are sewing uniforms and overalls that have been ordered by clients.

This tiny room is home to Transformers Initiative, a small organisation empowering women and girls in the slums by equipping them with technical skills.

Violet Barasa (left) teaches Florence Ouma how to use a sewing machine at Mathare, Nairobi, on May 4, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

One such beneficiary is Eunice Akinyi, who has been here since November last year.

The mother of three tells Nation.Africa that prior to joining the course, she was doing casual laundry jobs in Eastleigh, where she would take home between Sh100 and Sh150.

The constant use of cold water in her work, however, saw her contract pneumonia. A doctor advised her to keep off the job to prevent her from recontacting the disease.

Game changer

“I was lucky to hear of an opportunity here to train as a tailor and grabbed it. Things have been good so far and I thank God,” she says.

Akinyi is happy to have learnt how to make dresses, shorts, blouses, trousers and African traditional wear. At the moment, she is working on some of the orders placed by clients.

“In a day, I am now making not less than Sh300. I can now get money to at least sustain my family, something that has made me happy,” she adds.

Her mission, she adds, is to learn how to make more designs, more so the African traditional wear that includes Nigerian and Ghanaian wear. She will then look for capital and eventually open her own tailoring shop.

Florence Ouma also benefitted from the course two years ago and it has helped her become self-reliant. She says she has become a specialist in school uniforms and African traditional wear.

“In a day, I am able to make at least Sh500, which I use to take care of my family. I also at times use the money to help my husband pay school fees for our two children,” says Ms Ouma.

Once she gets enough capital, her goal, she says, is to have her own tailoring college, where many more women and girls can be trained to enable them to become self-reliant.

“My appeal to Kenyans of goodwill is to give us jobs. We are equal to the task and do really good work. They just need to give us an opportunity to see what we can do,” she adds.

Supporting family

The story is no different for Brenda Auma, who is thankful that the project has given her a new lease of life. Having trained at the place, Auma says she can now put food on the table.

Her advice to women and young girls with no jobs is to take advantage of such initiatives whenever they arise to better their lives.

Jack Owour shows how to use a sewing machine in Mathare, Nairobi, on May 4, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

The Transformers Mathare Initiative is the brainchild of Jack Owuor. The death of his mother and sister from chronic illnesses drove him to start the initiative.

Owuor, in an interview with Nation.Africa, says their demise dealt him a major blow and left him dejected.

The pain of losing them was too much to bear, hence he, in their memory, resolved to come up with an initiative that would help women become financially independent.

The community-based organisation was born in 2018. It targets vulnerable women and girls.

HIV/Aids fight

Besides tailoring and dress-making, it also raises awareness of the effects of HIV/Aids stigma and substance abuse.

Owuor, a HeForShe champion who once harboured ambitions of becoming a Catholic priest, says HIV/Aids stigma continues to take its toll on many people, especially women, “taking some to the grave”. His campaign also involves having more HIV-positive people accept their condition so that they are put on ARVs.

“Our goal is to allow community participation aimed at improving livelihoods and poverty reduction, while contributing to socio-economic development and ending HIV/Aids stigma in our slums,” says Mr Owuor.

He is happy that the project has so far empowered more than 20 women, who can now support themselves and their families.

Owuor says his vision was made possible by a well-wisher who donated 15 sewing machines for the project. However, only five machines are currently in use, meaning only five women can be trained at any given time. The other 10 machines are lying idle as they lack space.

“We are optimistic that we will get a bigger space that accommodates all the 15 machines so that more women and girls can benefit.”

Jack Owour and Florence Ouma use a sewing machine in Mathare, Nairobi, on May 4, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Owuor says his plan is to have 200 women trained every quarter once they get a bigger room, thereby having 600 beneficiaries annually.

“The project has so far been very impactful. With more partnerships, we want to upscale the operations as many more women are seeking to be enrolled,” he says.

Orders

The women working with the organisation have a reason to smile after they received several uniform orders from schools and homes for domestic workers' uniforms.

Violet Baraza, a tailoring tutor, says the course takes between four and six months. Ms Baraza has been a tailor since 2011.

“It is a very good course to take. If you have the skill you can never sleep hungry. I appeal to many more women to take it as it will help them,” she says.

Within the slums, families survive on less than $1 a day and are hardly able to afford one single meal.

Apart from their struggle for living in limited facilities, women living in slums face many sanitation problems like lack of toilets, lack of water, poor drainage and uncollected garbage.

All these challenges, coupled with lack of employment and livelihoods, make life for women in slums even more complicated.



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