by Patricia Hamill
Readers may recall from our spring newsletter the story of an ambitious and successful Ugandan woman, Jane Kigoye. She was able to save her family from poverty by expanding her small tailoring business with the purchase of sewing machines from one of our partner programs, the Entrepreneurship Institute of Applied and Appropriate Technology (EIAAT). Not long after the newsletter went to print, we received word from Charles Mulamata, Founder and Head of the EIAAT in Uganda, that a vocational school that he was influential in developing within the Sacred Heart Primary School has developed into a successful and continuing program for the students.
In 2005, Charles’ two daughters, Olivia and Vivian, were studying at Sacred Heart. The school, located in Kyamusansala, Masaka District, in southern Uganda, had a tailoring section run by a woman named Nalongo Christine Namugerwa. The school’s only sewing machine was used mainly to mend school uniforms and other clothes. During a parent meeting, it was requested that parents should come out with constructive ideas and support in kind to further develop the school’s vocational programs. Charles thought it would be advantageous to arrange the acquisition of more sewing machines for the school so that the young could be taught a skill at a young age. Since the EIAAT had been receiving sewing machines from Pedals for Progress, they had some machines available in stock. In order to initiate the process, Charles offered the school 4 electric sewing machines. The EIAAT could not give away more; operating and shipping costs are such that they needed to earn income from the sale of the rest of their machines. The school headmistress, Sister Annet Nankusu, was very grateful for the initial donation of these machines but knew that there would have to be more if the program was going to be accessible to multiple students across grades.
There were stumbling blocks to furthering the development of the program and acquiring more machines. According to Sister Annet, most parents are “struggling low-income earners, who may not be able to pay a full cost of a sewing machine. A few parents who are middle class earners would be able to help but they are unable because of the many family dependents as a result of poverty and AIDS/HIV consequences (orphans and widows). The only way we sometimes get parents help us to get money for machines is during our school meetings when we beg them to contribute to this noble part of education of our children.” As a result of these pleas and the dedication of the parents to do what they could for their children and the school, Sacred Heart purchased a total of 6 machines from the EIAAT. With this generosity and motivation, the school was able to further its plans and the EIAAT was able to earn income to cover necessary expenses.
Because of EIAAT’s initiative, the school now has 18 sewing machines and gives formal tailoring lessons. Of the more than 500 students, at least 90 students attend these classes. They learn tailoring starting in the third grade and continue through to the sixth grade. Sister Annet emphasized that there is no tailoring class in grade 7 because this is a very busy year for finalizing primary school coursework.
The students who complete these courses adeptly design and tailor skirts, blouses, aprons, table cloths, pillow case covers, among other useful items. This combination of education and practical job training is essential for the country’s economic development. A perfect example of this direct connection is Sister Annet’s proposal to start selling the products of this section as a means of raising money for the school and the students whose products are sold. These tangible rewards help the students realize the advantages of enterprise and income earning at a young age. The pride and joy these kids have when they present the completed products is indisputable. While acquiring a certificate of academic achievement is very important, the concrete and immediate reward of earned wages offers more comprehendible representations of success. These successes also show the parents the advantages of teaching life skills alongside academics and encourage them to work together to include the school in their community-building enterprises.
Another economic benefit of this vocational program is that the school is able to retain a highly skilled staff to train the young and assist the original tailoring teacher Nalongo Christine. She is very happy because, with this division of the school and availability of machines, she is now allowed to earn extra income by tailoring activity such as making school uniforms. She can also take on other small jobs. These opportunities and the earning of a proper living wage give her satisfaction and incentive to stay on the job. In the children’s eyes, she is not only a teacher but an example of the successes that come from hard work, academic and practical knowledge, and a supportive community.
According to Mr. Mulamata, the EIAAT believes that vocational studies need to be recognized as major contributor to “industrialization, poverty abbreviation, and development of a nation.” This is quite true and more people and organizations like P4P are finding ways to ensure that their work is not exploited or neglected. Sister Annet states this point most succinctly: “I think today, it is very difficult to get honest people who will put in use each coin given to them to help the poor people. . . . It is most likely that small groups of people [or untried organizations] may fail to operate their services to the poor. My advice is that if our friends would like to join in the education of the . . . child, let them choose wisely the institutions they can channel their funds and help of any sort.”