Sewing for Change

By Du Hui Xi, Lee Lay Sim, Cecelia GC Ong, and Shen Ya-hui
Edited and translated by Wu Hsiao-ting

Tzu Chi launched sewing classes in Lumbini, empowering local women with practical skills. Volunteers have also helped graduates without sewing machines or who were struggling to find work. Establishing stable incomes transforms families, fostering stability and enabling children’s education.

Graduates from Tzu Chi’s first sewing class at its Lumbini office showcase their handcrafted attire during their graduation ceremony (Photo 2 by Unish Khyaju). In June, a group of graduates joined a project to create cloth sanitary pads, providing them an opportunity to supplement their household finances (Photo 1 by Rajkumar).

“I really enjoy coming here for class. When I first began, I didn’t even know how to use sewing scissors, but now I’m proficient!” said Anita Bhooj, who had never thought of going to a class to learn sewing before Tzu Chi offered sewing courses in Lumbini. She had married at 16 according to her parents’ wishes. After the birth of her children, her days were filled with childcare and household chores. How could she find time to learn a skill?

On October 17, 2022, Tzu Chi launched its first vocational sewing course for women at its Lumbini office. The course lasted six months. The majority of participants hailed from a village about a kilometer (0.62 miles) away. There were no buses available to transport them, nor did they have bicycles, so the women had to walk to class. Though they were sometimes late, they never missed a session. The first sewing class graduated on May 25 this year.

A month before the graduation ceremony, Tzu Chi volunteers invited students to sew clothes as their graduation projects. The students were amazed when they learned that Tzu Chi would provide funds for fabric for the projects. Initially quiet and reserved, they eagerly discussed it among themselves and then searched online for preferred styles. In the end, they decided to make light green outfits in the trendy “Umbrella Style.” They said wearing the outfits in local villages could even attract orders for sewing work.

On their graduation day, the students, wearing the clothes they had made, cheerfully conveyed their appreciation for their teacher’s selfless instruction in cutting and sewing skills. They also thanked Tzu Chi for providing them with the precious opportunity to learn free of charge. Some were moved to share that they had been confined at home without any skills before this experience. Now, they could sew clothes, and perhaps even earn an income and become self-reliant.

“Learning sewing has truly transformed my life,” remarked Puja Khadka, the instructor for the sewing class. “I’ve become independent and no longer rely on my family for financial support.” She further emphasized that the acquired skill is a lifelong asset and expressed her wish to inspire more women by sharing her experience.

For the participants of the sewing course, acquiring a skill was just the first step; they also needed the means to earn a living. Their underprivileged backgrounds hindered their ability to afford a sewing machine. The suitability of their living spaces for housing sewing machines was also a concern. To ensure that they didn’t face unemployment after graduating, volunteers found an appropriate community space to establish a sewing workshop. Sewing machines were set up there, equipping the participants with tools to generate income. On their graduation day, Tzu Chi’s first local sewing workshop was inaugurated.

Tzu Chi helps graduates secure orders too. In June, with the foundation’s help, several graduates joined a cloth sanitary pad project organized by the Health Environment and Climate Action Foundation (HECAF360). They earn income through the project by making cloth sanitary pads, which are then handed over to HECAF360 for packaging design, market promotion, and school-based health education programs.

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