My Visit to Ngombe
By Kathy Simonsen—Ashland, Oregon
I am a retired empty nester who loves to sew and to sew with a purpose. It is very important to me to be creating something that someone can use or enjoy wearing. God has also given me a heart for women in developing countries.
When I heard about Sew Powerful, which combines two of my passions, I was in! I was impressed with the careful documentation of the project and its effects on the girls and women in the community in Zambia. If I was to be involved, it was very important to me that this project would actually meet a need.
I love how the women are earning a living by sewing the sanitary products and small purses. It is not just a handout or a project to make us westerners feel good. Of course, it is a perk that I know my sewing has a purpose by changing the life of a young girl, allowing her to continue with her education. It has also impressed me that Jason and Cinnamon began Sew Powerful because they wanted to serve God with their talents and skills. I am so thankful that I can be a small part of this great project.
It was with excitement and a little trepidation that I applied to go on the trip to Lusaka, Zambia, with Sew Powerful in July of 2016—excited, because I would be able to see the impact of the purses I had been sewing; and fearful, because I would be traveling with 13 people I did not know to a country and culture that was unfamiliar. Through Facebook, I met the others on the team and knew I would be with like-minded travelers, who care for the underserved in a developing nation.
After flying for the longest time, we arrived in Lusaka. Esther and Matilda met us at the airport along with Jeffrey, our bus driver. As we were driving through the streets of this large capital city, I was impressed with the roads and sanity of the traffic.
The next morning, we traveled in our bus to Ngombe Compound. Here we saw the difference between the richer part of the city and one of the poorest slums. The streets were unpaved and full of potholes, some deep enough to wonder if the bus would remain upright. We passed a ravine that was obviously used as their dump. The streets were filled with young people and children. This area has been deeply affected by the AIDS epidemic; so many of the middle-aged have died from the disease.
Esther, the seamstresses, teachers and children, greeted us at Needs Care School. The morning was filled with the singing of the children followed by helping with the feeding of the students. Our team shared in the distribution of the porridge for each student. It was sobering to know that this is the only food some of them will receive each day.
The afternoon and the next morning were spent unpacking all the beautiful purses that had been made by seamstresses from all over the world. The purses were then filled with the washable sanitary pads, underwear and soap. The seamstresses and myself were honored to be able to hand out the purses that we had sewn. One girl, who had lost both parents to AIDS, commented that her grandmother would never be able to afford a purse this nice. Part of receiving the purses and supplies, was a promise by the girls to not miss a day of school because of their monthly period.
Later in the week, the team was able to talk to five of the girls who had received purses the year before. They all shared how well the pads worked and were able to stay in school all month. One girl had one complaint that the pads did not dry fast enough. She washes her own pads and hangs them to dry. With Esther’s help interpreting, we discovered that she had been sharing pads from a friend and now with her new purse she would share some with her sister. We all agreed that she needed another purse for her sister! Jason encouraged her to tell her sister that we care for her and want her to also do well in school. Another girl, through tears, thanked us for the soap, as her mother cannot afford to buy soap.
I came away from this time with the girls knowing that sewing a few purses and donating a little money does make a difference. Together with Sew Powerful and all those sewing purses, and donating money for supplies, we can have a valuable effect on the lives of girls in Ngombe—not only to help them stay in school all month, but to give them encouragement by knowing that someone in another country cares for them. It also helps them have goals beyond getting married at an early age and having many children.
The team traveled to 3 Esthers Farm on Wednesday. The farm is 10 acres of land that will eventually grow food to feed the children in Ngombe at Needs Care School. It was a great privilege as part of the team to help plant ten orange trees, two guava trees and two avocado trees, that will eventually produce fruit for the sweet children at Needs Care School.
What a joy it was to meet the seamstresses, who have a room at the school set up with sewing machines! They spend their day sewing the washable sanitary pads out of flannel, along with the waterproof liners. They also make the school uniforms for the children, including using the knitting machine to knit all of their sweaters!
My small, regular donations are critical to help support the seamstresses. Because of the sewing cooperative, they have employment to help send their children to school, and to provide for some of their basic needs in an environment where there are not a lot of options. The money all goes to the ministry that is changing lives.
I left Lusaka being so impressed with Esther, a woman from the Ngombe Compound, who prayed for a school for the children and through the grace of God has accomplished that vision. The school has grown to seven grades in its own building and teaches and feeds the children. In addition, she has started a clinic that is staffed by a nurse that provides family planning to the women of the neighborhood, seeing 80–100 women each Tuesday.
Sew Powerful has come alongside Esther, a woman who knows the needs of her community, and started a ministry that provides financial help and vision to make it successful.
I feel more and more passionate about Sew Powerful. Jason and Cinnamon in their humility and care for the needy of Ngombe Compound have a beautiful model coming alongside a local school, supporting local seamstresses and letting the local leadership determine the best way to empower these children and women to rise above their circumstances with practical solutions.