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Malawi school forms Christian entrepreneurs

 
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1:00 P.M. EST May 24, 2011 | MZUZU Malawi (UMNS)



Kara Oliver, a United Methodist missionary, examines a skirt sewn at the tailoring school in Mzuzu, Malawi. A United Methodist pastor in Malawi started the school to teach women a money-earning skill. Web-only photos by Jeff Oliver.
Kara Oliver, a United Methodist missionary, examines a skirt sewn at the tailoring school in Mzuzu, Malawi. A United Methodist pastor in Malawi started the school
to teach women a money-earning skill. Web-only photos by Jeff Oliver.

Inside a dilapidated building illuminated with only window light, women are learning to become entrepreneurs.

The sewing school, started by the pastor of a United Methodist church in northern Malawi, has trained 11 poor women in tailoring. Ten students are currently in training.

For many, each stitch takes them a step closer to escaping poverty.

Lucy Singini, captain of the current class, said she is learning self-reliance.

“When I get the skills in tailoring and start my own business, I will be able to pay my household utilities, help in the development of the church and also help my friends who have the same problems,” she said. “We have been asked to sew many things like duvets, dresses, children’s shirts, cushions, tote bags, and we have learned many embroidery patterns.”

The school sells its finished sewing items and splits the proceeds with the students.

“Last year, we made $590 from the sale of tote bags,” said the Rev. Copeland Nkhata, the school’s director. The sewing school and students also received $240 for making 60 dresses for a neighboring school.

Of the school’s 11 graduates, four have bought machines and launched tailoring businesses of their own.

Many widows and orphans

Nkhata opened the Mzuzu United Methodist Church in 2004 and started the school three years ago as a way to enable unskilled and often illiterate women to become tailors.

Many of these women are single mothers or widows. Most dropped out of school due to lack of school fees and opted for early marriages.

The pastor explained that community residents are members of Ngoni, an ethnic group that considers having many wives and children to be a sign of wealth. When the man dies, he leaves many widows and children without any means of support.

“This situation is deplorable,” Nkhata said. “The women come to me to ask for help, but the resources available don’t meet such gigantic needs. I keep encouraging them to pray to God for their help.”



Members of the 2010 sewing class stand for a portrait flanked by the Rev. Copeland Nkhata (far right), the school’s founder, and missionary Kara Oliver (far left).
Members of the 2010 sewing class stand for a portrait
flanked by the Rev. Copeland Nkhata (far right), the
school’s founder, and missionary Kara Oliver (far left).

The tailoring school is an answer to those prayers. The God-inspired school is providing desperately needed relief, the pastor said.

Challenges ahead

With only six electric sewing machines and six manual Singer machines, classes are limited to 10 women.

The school selects two women from the community, three from churches of other denominations and five members of Mzuzu United Methodist Church.

“If I want to train them on electric machines, four students wait for their friends to finish before they take their turn,” said Zione Nkhoma, instructor of the school. He also notes that the sewing machines are wearing out.

The school spends $60 a week for fabric and $150 a month for the instructor’s salary; machine maintenance adds $1,000 a year, and the school generally gives a $54 allowance to each graduating student. A new electric sewing machine costs $600, and a Singer pedal machine costs $254.

The school receives some support from First United Methodist Church in Ankeny, Iowa, and World Hope Corps, based in Madison, N.J.

But more help is needed.

“Currently the school has received more than 20 applications from the community for admission in June 2011,” Nkhata said. “But we can’t afford to help all of them.”

Nkhata sees the demand as a strong indicator that the school is important for the community, and the community recognizes how The United Methodist Church is empowering women and making them economic players.

People can support the school by giving to Malawi Missionary Conference, Advance No. 00203A, with an earmark for Mzuzu United Methodist Church.

*Kumwenda was a trainee at a news-writing workshop in Blantyre, Malawi.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  • Herb Mather 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    We are so excited to see the story of the sewing school. When we visited last year we had an amazing experience interviewing the students and hearing how the school has changed their lives! And the tote bags are wonderful. Rev. Copeland has worked so hard to make it a success and we hope it will grow and grow. We hope to see you in a few weeks. We love you, Hope Tailoring School! Herb and Sue Mather

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