When I was scheduling my visit with Reach Girls last month, the fact that it was Independence Day in Malawi wasn’t an issue. “That’s mostly just something that they observe in the capital,” my host, Tiba Zimba, said. “But, there will be a funeral for one of the village headmen that day, so some of the girls related to him will attend the burial.” Trip planning is always a lesson in flexibility, rolling with the changes, and working within the current reality!
African Advisory Board Member Naomi Ayot Oyaro and I arrived at the small fishing village of Maganga and met Tiba just before the funeral procession started. We stood to the side of the road and observed until they had passed before continuing our greetings. (Later, when the procession passed the other way, leaving the burial, we paused our testimonies to give our respect.)
Over the past two years, Reach Girls has used SIA grants for their tailoring training program, training 25 young women and providing a welcoming space for them to borrow sewing machines and earn money. Currently, they have four machines, which are in constant use.
The women are all young mothers who have found renewed hope and financial independence due to the training. “Things are different now,” Menia (in the video below, she demonstrates the treddle sewing machine) told us. “Before, I was roaming around without a purpose.” She stopped going to school when she had her child at sixteen. “As of now, I can meet my basic needs, buy soap, and make clothes for myself and my son.”
“This program has changed my life and the lives of others,” said Emma, who is one of the students and also the treasurer for the savings group that the women have started. After any tailor sells an outfit, they contribute 10% to the general fund to maintain their sewing machines.
Inez, a young woman of 20 years old, always wanted to become a tailor, but she never had the money to start. She was so excited to join the Reach Girls program to gain sewing skills and access sewing machines. “Basic needs are not a problem for me,” she said with a mix of shyness and pride. “I was able to drink tea with sugar this morning.” The room erupted in applause, honoring Inez’s accomplishment.
Tiba Zimba, their dedicated leader, has formed good relationships with the local village headmen to identify the most vulnerable girls in the area for the program. She also works with the Area Development Committee, a government organization tasked with improving the community, which houses the sewing machines in their secure office.
Not content to keep the transformation to themselves, the girls have already Shared the Gift by making fourteen school uniforms and giving them out for free to help keep other kids in school. They also get together and have sewing bees to make menstrual pads for girls still in school. This is truly the spirit of love and the ripple of SIA in action! Jennifer, a teacher from the local school, was so delighted with the work of Reach Girls, “I am so happy,” said Jennifer during our gathering. “I’m speechless to share my gratitude. I want to dance, but there is a funeral!”