Women learn sewing, find hope and position in Sierra Leone

August 24, 2016

If you’ve been around Just Hope for any amount of time, you know we believe that the most lasting way to help a person out of poverty is to empower them to provide for themselves and increase their household income. Giving a person a meal will last a few hours, but giving them hope, opportunity and training can last for generations. We are always eager to support others who are using this same belief to serve others.

Foday Koroma, one of our partners in Sierra Leone, founded a sewing school in Lunsar, helped along in no small part by our friends Bill and Dottie Jones. The story of the sewing school goes back to 2010 – actually it goes back to the 1960s, when Bill and Dottie Jones experienced international missionary work in a way that didn’t feel as though it had made any difference. Fast forward to 2010, when Dottie learned about an effort in Sierra Leone through her eye doctor and believed it would be the experience they had hoped for 50 years earlier.  Retired and newly opened to God’s calling, Bill and Dottie spent four months in Lunsar, where they met Foday Koroma. Dottie calls him “the most amazing man I have ever met, a person who can get anything done with practically nothing.”

Before they returned home, Foday told Bill and Dottie that one of his dreams was to empower women with a new sewing school. The Sierra Leone Civil War, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, shut down access to education for an entire generation of people. As a result, most young adult women had no education, no purpose in the world other than child bearing, and no means to create income and security. Foday saw a sewing school as a way to help them.

This idea resonated with Dottie, whose own mother taught her to sew. So when Bill and Dottie returned to Sierra Leone in 2013, they took with them several sewing machines donated by a friend of Dottie’s who owns sewing centers in Knoxville and Murfreesboro, Tenn. Finding an empty building in the compound in Lunsar near the eye hospital, and Foday wasted no time launching the school. In a matter of weeks, 80 women had enrolled in the sewing school, most of whom had never attended school of any kind before.

With certified tailors as the instructors, the women have learned to sew school uniforms and perform mending, for which there is great demand. On our recent trip to Sierra Leone, we decided to send them a little business.

After discovering some beautiful fabric in one of the local markets, Amanda and Liz asked the women in the sewing school to make them each a kimono-style top. Using only pictures from the Internet that we showed them, the young women blew us away with their ability to look at a picture, take measurements, create a pattern and fabricate a custom-fit article of clothing.

In the three years since the school opened, Bill and Dottie have shipped between 60 and 80 sewing machines to Lunsar. One student from the program, Amiatu, has started a sewing school in her own village, passing on her knowledge and empowering more women.

“If we don’t do anything with this school than give women confidence and status, we’ve done more than has been done for them for years and years,” said Dottie.

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