Project Luangwa Sewing a Better Future for Local Women

Some of you might have seen a previous post here about the truly comendable work being done by Project Luangwa in and around the town of Mfuwe just outside the famous South Luangwa National Park.

Project Luangwa is an NGO, supported by a handful of local safari operators as well as international donors, that focuses on “supporting schools, increasing the standards of education and encouraging communities to find sustainable ways to support themselves “, and they have put an astounding amount of time and money towards that end, with the total spend on education and community projects reaching US$484,000 in 2013 alone.

Since she took up her position as one of the project managers, Karen Beattie has been particularly driven in her work to empower local girls and women, running a regular Girls’ Club for secondary school girls, as well as various workshops and initiatives for girls and women from the region.

The latest of these initiatives is the Women’s Craft Workshop.

According to Karen, this project is the story of “one thing leading to another”.

“We started training local women to sew to make reuseable washable sanitary pads,” she says, “I had had the idea of making pads for a couple of years but not had the time do much about it apart from some research.  We’d had lots of commercial pads donated and so we trialled these by giving them to girls and women and getting them to complete questionnaires at intervals over a few months.  We had also had sewing machines donated from the UK but due to the lack of time had done nothing.

“Then two ladies had volunteered to come & teach the women to sew for a month (in February) and this coincided with the arrival of a container full of donated goodies – amongst other things more sewing machines, fabric, thread and so  on.  We rented a small shop to use as somewhere to teach them and slowly they learnt to sew.

“After the ladies returned to the UK I worked with them for a while and thought that we could do more. We’d had all sorts of fabric donated: furnishing fabric, suit fabric, coat fabric and so on. The premises is in a great position right next door to the filling station and the last shop towards the park so I thought let’s use all this fabric to make bags and open a shop for tourists. By this time I had employed a local lady as a manager and together we set about teaching the women more advanced sewing techniques.

“In addition we took on a girl who could crochet a little and she makes bags by crocheting recycled bed sheets and duvet covers. . . Everyone helps teach everyone else and shares their skills.  We only take on needy women and it is all about giving them the opportunities to support their families with dignity.”

In the coming months, Karen says the women will begin making shoes and jewelry too. She also has plans to teach lino printing. She is looking to keep expanding the project and, with this in mind, has rented an additional space next door to the workshop’s current site.

Project Luangwa recently received a volunteer from the BBC who helped members of the Girls’ Club work with film and learn about telling their stories through film. They also made a 2 minute short film about the craft project.

You can watch the video here.

Or to find out more about Project Luangwa and the incredible work they are doing in the Luangwa Valley, click here.