June 20, 2019
Latest News

Thread and needle, the survival tools for Kenyan women

By Edurne Morillo and Lucia Blanco

Nairobi, Apr 10 (efe-epa).- A Kenyan mother-of-five has described how sewing has helped her family survive.

Jerusa Angokho, from eastern Kenya, had to take care of her five children by herself without a profession at the age of almost 40.

She is now one of 30 women in the Mrembo Africa or "Beautiful Woman Africa" project, a workshop that provides employment for Kenyan and refugee women living in the Kangemi slums, west of Nairobi.

Angokho, who is now 52, said she is a "different woman".

"I've learned to speak freely, at first I was afraid to express myself, but now I know I can create, sew and then sell what I produce," she told Efe.

In this suburb of around 100,000 inhabitants, which does not have a sewage system, thousands of women are part of the informal settlement of Kangemi, where more than 80 percent of Kenyans work, allowing them to contribute to the family income with 500 to 700 Kenyan shillings per day (between $5 and $7).

Initiatives like Mrembro Africa were launched to help empower these women.

Kenyan Alice Eshuchi started the project without the support of the government or of any other organization with the sole objective of being able to obtain benefits and provide a living wage for them.

"We started in 2016, when we were really small and we were teaching the women, Kenyan and refugees, from zero. Our main goal was to give them power so that they could empower others," she said.

With more than 25 years of experience in managing social programs and empowering women and girls, as well as other vulnerable groups, Eshuchi decided to start the project by observing women living in the neighborhood, many without access to education and with very few resources.

"Women here are incredibly creative, they always bring new ideas with them, they just need the confidence to achieve their goals, and after spending time with us, they become entrepreneurs," she said.

Women own more than 60 percent of the country's informal enterprises and only 32 percent of the formal ones, according to a 2016 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Millicent Nakhumicha, 25, dreams of owning her own workshop.

She started working with the organization in 2014, right after graduation, without any specific training or the resources to continue studying.

“I want to focus on my career, I cannot depend on a man, only on myself,” Nakhumicha said.

She added that her designs for bags and backpacks were inspired by the people she sees on the street, on television and in magazines.

The shy-looking young woman has also become a model for Mrembo Africa, and is in charge of making bags, backpacks and other accessories in the workshop, which she admits is “her weakness.”

“My dream is to have a factory where hundreds of women without capital work and to help them pay their rent, food or school for their children,” she said.

The pedals of the old sewing machines, some from the 1950s, and the bobbins of thread do not stop running in this small workshop, where colorful African fabrics are made into all kinds of styles and designs, including fashion, accessories and home decorations.

In 2018, the organization trained 42 women and girls, some already married and with children.

Eshuchi said the task “is not always easy” and there have been some cases of failure among the project’s participants.

Mrembo Africa provides some women with the only food they eat that day, but with the clear objective that they are not dependent and can earn their own livelihoods.

"Any woman can do what we do here, you just need to look at each student and see what she is capable of," Eshuchi said. EFE

emg-lbg/hi/rb

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