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The making of the first female tailor…

Janet is a young mother of 1 child. She is 23 years old. Janet joined the Tailoring Course with the cohort of January to June 2022 and graduated in September of the same year. She heard of There is Hope from one of our graduates from the same trade. Her father encouraged her to enroll in vocational training so that she can be self-reliant. “She is my last-born child, therefore, I wanted her to be self-reliant. And I advised her to enroll into tailoring as that is marketable here,” his father said. This was echoed by Janet herself as she said that her goal was to attain self-salience when she applied for skills training in tailoring. Acquiring the skills? She has. Attaining self-reliance? She’s on her way there. So, listen…

When we visited her in April 2023, she had just a month plying her trade in the industry. The first dress she made was for herself. “And I sold it few days later, people liked the design that much… That’s how many people came to know about me”, she said. That’s exactly how Janet made her first income via the skills training that she acquired.

Janet accepts that attaining self-reliance is a process. She is yet to acquire her own sewing machine. Therefore, she found herself a mentor; where she goes to practice what she learnt in class. Where she goes to market her skills to prospective customers. “I feel that I am empowered with the tailoring skills that I learnt at There is Hope. What I need now is a sewing machine”. When we spoke to her father in that regard, he said that he would buy one once he sells this year’s harvest – he is a hard-working subsistence farmer, just like most families in the rural villages of Dowa.

So let me take you to the very beginning of Janet’s story. Janet dropped out of secondary school as she fell pregnant in 2018. She was 17 years old only by then. A child by Malawi’s new laws. When young girls fall pregnant, parents usually marry them off to save face and also to earn some money in most parts of Malawi. Mr. Malenga doesn’t subscribe to such school of thought. He could not allow her teenage last-born child to get married. Instead, he advised Janet to give birth then return to school. This did not go down well with Jane’s then boyfriend. He married another woman while Janet was pregnant, a failed attempt to influence Janet’s parents change their minds.

Mr. Malenga and family stood their ground. And devised a good plan to get their daughter back to secondary school. As fate would have it, the plan did not work out as he no longer could afford the rising school fees due to the aftermath of the Covid19 epidemic, coupled with a chronic illness of a family member. As such, Janet’s return to secondary school was halted.

But when one door closes, another opens. And persistence always works. Janet’s father persisted in looking for other alternatives for her girl child to attain self-reliance.  He advised her to search for skills training centres. “I didn’t want my girl child to be without any education or technical skills. That’s why I didn’t marry her off when she fell pregnant, in addition to her being young”, he said.

Her search for skills training paid off when she heard of There is Hope and its vocational training school in Dzaleka. She instantly chose tailoring. “There are few trained tailors in this community. Only 2. Therefore, there is a market for this trade. Once I have my own sewing machine, I will make it big”, Janet ululated. Currently, Janet continues to borrow a sewing machine from one of the 2 tailors that are there in the community. He says that once he sells off this year’s harvest, the first thing that he would do is buy a sewing machine for Janet. “I thank There is Hope and its partners for providing my child with skills training. Now I will make sure that she is earning a living through those skills by buying her a sewing machine”, He said.

Janet is one of the young people that have acquired skills training under the Ignite Project from WUSC which is a 2-year programme that seeks to achieve the economic empowerment of vulnerable refugees, women and the youths in Dowa district. As a young mother, she and a friend rented a house near the near the training centre so that she can still raise her son while she attained the skills training. That’s how committed she was towards acquiring the skills. “Doing skills training and raising my young child at the same time was not difficult. My friend always helped out,” she says.

Janet has become a role model for other young women in her community. She gets a lot of questions regarding where and how she attained the skills. “I always inform them that this skills training and many others are offered at There is Hope’s vocational training centre, located in Dzaleka”, she says.

She also would like to enroll in the solar training as that is also a need that the community seeks as the area isn’t connected to electricity. “People mostly use solar energy here, they always need a technician to help them install their solar equipment”, she concluded. We hope to see her back at our training centre soon to explore the solar photovoltaic installation, an icing on the cake for her career.