If you follow stories on development, education, or global missions, you’ve probably heard words like empowerment, community, social enterprise, and sustainability. We use words like these at Faith that Works (FTW), especially when we talk about our work with women in the Horn of Africa. To us, they’re exciting words because they often point to positive growth and stories of new life and hope.

For women we work with in East Africa, sewing is practical skill they can use to earn an income

Over the past 5 years in our Global Outreach programs, we’ve seen stories of poverty, persecution, illness, and loss transform into stories of hope and faith. Our dedicated leaders, volunteers, generous supporters, and advocates have played key roles in ushering new life through outreach initiatives like a safe home for persecuted women, evangelism, emergency medical aid, and education support. As our outreach has developed, we recognized a need among women we work with in East Africa for job skills and a way to earn a livable wage. After many meetings and much planning, in October 2015 we launched a business to empower women living in poverty by teaching them sewing and basic craft skills so they can create handmade products and earn an income for themselves and their families. We provide livable wages for the women in this initial stage as the women build their skills. Our vision is for the business to become self-sustaining, generating income for the women and putting additional proceeds into an emergency fund for the women. One of the first steps in launching this business was giving sewing lessons to a small group of women we work with in Africa. Kimberly Wilson, a FTW supporter and volunteer, helped lead these initial lessons. She traveled with our founder to East Africa in October. Below, she shares a reflection on her trip:

My first visit to the Horn of Africa was very different from my second. The first helped acquaint me with Faith that Works’ various ministries. It was kind of like sticking my toe in the water to see if I should dive in. My trip this October, on the other hand, was more like, “I’m in the water and forgot how to swim.”

Even as I write this, I am very aware that my experience on the trip began and ended each day in a clean, air-conditioned hotel room with a shower and mostly working toilet. I had more than enough food and plenty of good local coffee, not to mention the loving, welcoming women who greeted me each morning as we began our sewing work for the day.


Sewing materials

One of FTW’s female leaders opened her home to us so we could teach her and other women to sew. She opens her home each week as a space for the women to pray, but we literally took over her house for the lessons. Her living room furniture was moved to her covered porch as we confiscated every desk and tabletop we could find. We covered these flat surfaces with sewing machines, piles of fabric, thread, and various tools of the trade. We used the hallway to spread out our fabric and cut out the pattern.

A number of the Christian women FTW works with in East Africa have suffered great losses. Family members abandoned them, communities scorn them, and many lost whatever source of income they once had. Being a woman is particularly difficult in this environment, even under the best conditions. Without education or a profitable skill, it can be hard for women in such circumstances to care for themselves or improve their future.

On the trip I met a woman living in harsh circumstances who is fighting for a better future. Despite a disabled hip, she faithfully showed up each day to learn how to sew, with the hope that she can build skills to find an income, and more importantly, dignity. With duty and great difficulty, she got down on the floor to pin and cut out the material—all without complaint.


Kim helps a young woman learn to use a serger sewing machine

One morning as we gathered to begin another day of training, this woman began to tear up. As she spoke in her language to the women’s leader and her words were then translated to us, we learned the cause of her tears. Her family lives in an apartment compound in which the landlord harasses her. As she was leaving to meet with us, this person began to chastise her saying, “Look at you. You can’t even walk. Why do you go to work? Where is your Jesus?  Why doesn’t He heal you?” Understandably she felt shamed and hurt. We all hugged her and cried.

While she had been struggling to pick up the sewing steps, that afternoon I could see that something clicked and she began doing much better. The smile of accomplishment on her face spoke volumes, and for a moment, I could see that her dignity was being restored.

That is the hope! That is the reason to travel to a faroff land. By our cushy American standards it may seem hard, but when you know and love Christ, your standards begin to change. I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 8:9 - “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

  Will you join us to provide practical job skills, a livable wage, and hope for women? Please consider becoming a monthly supporter so we can help more women develop job skills and experience greater confidence and independence: http://faith-that-works.org/donate/ 
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