This summer, Sewing Hope is focusing primarily on TEACHER TRAINING. As we continue to define and refine our work here in Uganda, I am being more and more convinced that focusing on teachers, and then expecting that they will teach their students, is the most efficient and valuable way to spend a few weeks in-country.
So, to that end, we started our first week of teacher training on monday. We spent the first day traveling around Jinja to visit the various locations where HODASSU does it's work. For those unfamiliar, HODASSU, is a new organization to Fount's work, and it focuses on vocational training for disabled children and adults. Their structure is different from our other organizations, in that they support individuals through partnering to help them pay rent, secure resources, and teach skills to blind and deaf children.
First we visited the shop where a man named Emma (short for Emmanuel) works. He does alterations and makes men's shirts, and women's dresses. He also teaches about 5 students from his modest shop and 2 machines. He always has a HUGE smile. We had him do the small exercises we brought to understand a little more about his skill level. We met his students and asked him a TON of questions.
We moved on to a local Vocational Training School called Tubalera. Here, we met a disabled woman named Jennifer who has been sewing for 20 years and currently has a full time position as their head sewing teacher. HODASSU has been supporting 2 disabled students to take classes here and she is an inspiration to them, as someone who has overcome a disability by using sewing skills.
Next we went next door to visit Erina, who lives with her children in a small room. Erina cannot walk upright, but rather uses her hands and feet to crawl around. She cares for her children using the hand-crank machine provided by HODASSU. She showed us an impress skirt and top she had made. Lori told me later that the first time she visited Erina in her home, she had given birth that very morning and was doing her wash when they arrived!!! and, I'm not talking with a machine...by hand and line-dried! ha! AMAZINGLY strong woman.
Our next stop was to visit a women's group. We walked into a chicken coop that had been cleared out for a make-shift meeting place. There were about 10 women sitting in a semi-circle with piles and piles of beads laying on the floor mats, along with many styles of hand-woven baskets. It was a beautiful sight...lots of color. We spent awhile speaking to them about the products they make and what they'd like to be doing. It is very clear that they are eager to learn, but they don't have access to a machine and must hire one (rent) from time to time.....theirs was destroyed in a fire last year. They have sent 4 women to our class.
Our final stop was at Walukuba primary school, just outside of Jinja Town. This is a wonderful school which has a group of deaf students living/studying there. Although Victoria, their teacher who is attending our classes, was not there, we had a fun time trying to sign with the children, learn some of their names, etc. The director of the program there, Flavia, is just lovely and so supportive of HODASSU's work in their school. Their hope is to be able to give their students some training so that they can leave school with a way to provide for themselves.
By the end of the day, my team had a better idea of who their students would be, what their challenges and limitations are, and what their skill level may be. We went home exhausted, but excited.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week were spent in our office space on Main Street in Jinja. We invited 5 HODASSU teachers and Sarah from MOHM to attend an 8-day course. We ended up with 9 HODASSU teachers and Sarah attending....and, this is after me turning down 3 other requests from strangers to join our class...ha!! Even though our classroom is behind a store and could not be more hidden, they still seem to find us.
After much frustration and hounding of the man we bought the sewing machines from, 3 shiny new machines came with tables. We set them up with minimal stress, and over several days gathered the materials we would need for our first classes.
One of the biggest needs for our groups is quality control and a refining of skills. All of these students have a strong basic knowledge of the machine and basic construction of garments. But, their sewing is often sloppy, or just quickly done. So, in pursuit of setting their work apart, we are having them complete a man's shirt from start to finish, with each step being focused on in detail.
We had them create a bag during the first day, as another way to assess their skill levels...how they grasped the concepts and instructions....how familiar they were with the machine...how confident they are. It sounds simple, but this was a new thing for us to do, and it proved EXTREMELY valuable. Taking that time made all the difference in grouping our women and focusing on what they need.
Emma and Sarah moved directly into the shirt, learning to pattern from an existing shirt, and how to change details into new styles.
The rest of the women were so pumped and motivated by completing their initial bags so quickly.
Thursday and Friday were spent teaching them to also pattern shirts from existing shirts, pretending a customer came in to ask them to copy their own. It has been tedious, but extremely valuable to go through each step of the process. we have started cutting the shirts out and by the end of the week will have 8 shirts created. Our 6 hour long classes leave us all wiped out, as we are not only dealing with heat and a small space, but also with figuring things out on the fly....focusing individual attention on each student's needs, including a deaf woman named Victoria whom we must write out all instructions to.
Tara, Fount of Mercy's Vocational Development Director