Wow. Time has flown! Eight weeks ago I started the sewing part of our month long business skills programme in Mutare, Zimbabwe. I've been back in London for over a month but the memories have stayed with me. I suspect they will forever.
Let's backtrack. I decided to join RE13Global on their June 2018 trip to Zimbabwe because I hoped that I would be able to lend my sewing experience to make a small difference to these young women's lives. I mean, what would be the point of my forty years sewing and 30 years teaching knowledge if not to pass it on to people who could use it? I spent the first two weeks watching Natalie deliver her business skills and enterprise workshops. She taught fifty students aged 18 to 24 in two groups. F.ACT (Family Aids caring Trust) chose these students because they expressed an interest in becoming entrepreneurs. Some had already started but wanted the benefit of formal business training. The Zimbabwe official unemployment statistic currently stands at around 90%. Whilst Zimbabweans are some of the most educated citizens on the continent, the job market is highly competitive.
Sustainable fashion, designing, cutting and creating a bag in six days. Phew!
So, imagine. I'd been watching Natalie deliver these workshops in her engaging, informative style. I'd been told that I would be teaching Fashion Business skills to 18 of these students during the following week. Someone casually dropped into the mix the fact that we'd be based at a local sewing collective, Matarenda, and that their teachers would be watching ME teach. Finally, Natalie turned to me and said 'It's YOUR week!'. You'd think I'd be thrilled, right? Of course, that's when my old friend 'Imposter syndrome' chose to appear. And SHE brought her new bezzie mate 'Homesickness' along! I remember it well. It was a Friday evening and I'd delivered a successful workshop on sewing theory for a couple of hours earlier that day. We'd been in Zimbabwe for two weeks. Wifi was not playing ball and I couldn't contact anyone close to me to touch base. I knew that in a few days all eyes would be on me. And, in true, Karen Arthur fashion, I had 'a moment'.
A wise woman once advised me to write down a list of all the possible outcomes of all the possible scenarios that cause me to panic. When one of them came up I was supposed to refer back to the list and thus realise that everything would be okay. The world would not end. Well I didn't happen to have that list on me BUT remembering her advice did make me feel a whole lot better. That and the sage words my eldest daughter uttered to me before I left for Zim: 'This is the perfect opportunity to live in the moment, mum!'. Ne'er a truer word, eh?
Well! Monday came around and...I LOVED it! Of course I did! We spent the first part of the session looking at sewing work that the students had made and discussing their own strengths and weaknesses. Whilst the students talked , some spoke in Shona and other students translated for me, I was busy working out how to give them my best offer for the week. I wanted every participant to finish the week with some solid practical skills they could use in the future. We covered topics from sustainable fashion through the design process to making actual bags using kind fabric donations we'd brought over from the UK. We chose bag-making because it requires minimal amounts of fabric and can enable a sewing business to produce small items quickly and make an income whilst also growing in the direction they wish. I couldn't have predicted how fulfilling that day, and subsequently, the entire week would be. When we got home after the first day I remember thinking 'THIS is why I'm here!'. It felt, frankly, fan-TASTIC. A feeling that, if bottled, would make me a gazillionaire! (I'm sure someone, somewhere, is working on this as I type).
Thanks to your kind donations we were able to purchase an Industrial sewing machine and an overlocker and leave a large bag of gorgeous fabric and notions. F.A.C.T are also facilitating a workroom so that participants can continue what we started. We had some challenges, naturally, but I am SO proud of all these young women. They are too! Just LOOK at their faces!
If you're interested in volunteering with RE13Global in any capacity and you've been inspired by my experience, Natalie is currently recruiting for a trip to Zimbabwe November. All YOU have to do is fill in an expression of interest form and take it from there.
Thanks for reading this far! Enjoy the photos and let me know your thoughts in the comments.