By Carla A. Robertson
Buckner Volunteer Missionary to Kenya
On our first day at the Baptist Children’s Center and at the Technical Education Center, we discovered that the sewing center was about more than just sewing.
I realized that Zibora, the sewing instructor, and Agnes, the embroidery teacher, also served as counselors to the women in the sewing program.
All of the women in the program had two notebooks. One was for learning pattern making and about the sewing machine. The other one was filled with notes about things they wanted to know about their bodies, their families and their spiritual lives.
On the first day, I saw how excited the teachers were that I had gone specifically to be with them because most people come to work with orphans or those suffering HIV/AIDS.
They greeted me each day with a kiss on both cheeks. They did not talk much to me, but they smiled a lot. I soon discovered that what I brought was like a treasure to them. In the United States, we sew with fabric regardless of how much we know about sewing. In Kenya they have to perfect making a pattern to size and sewing on paper before they are allowed to make something out of fabric.
I knew ahead of time that this class mainly worked on blouses and skirts, so it was better that I chose projects that did not involve making patterns or clothes. I brought several purse/bag projects, pillows and quilting patterns. I didn't know at the time, but this would be their first time making these items. Every day was adventure, starting having me learn how to use a treadle machine –operated by the pumping of my legs.
They were so excited after making the first bag that the teachers volunteered the class to make 20 more for the rest of the staff. The only problem was that I only brought one-and-a-half duffel bags of fabric. And at the time, I did not know that there would be 37 students, three teachers and 20 staff. But the fabric seemed to multiply and divide and there was always enough.
The students were not only proud of the bags, but surprised to learn that they could keep them. They would ask if we were making these items for them to take home. The joy they had when I said “yes” was indescribable.
The hardest part of the class was getting them to slow down and sew a little straighter. The excitement of sewing on fabric every day was almost overwhelming. The key to all of this was realizing that I had to show the teachers how to do the projects first, and then it was easy for them to translate to the women.
One of the more exciting events was Tuesday afternoons, when they would clean up early and then have a time of worship and discipleship. There were a couple of Muslims in the class who would excuse themselves after the cleanup time. But the worship time was awesome. To see the young women, who were obviously going through something difficult, find relief and encouragement in the sewing room let me know that the door to ministry was wide open.
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