When it comes to inspirational stories from our communities, it is hard to find one more affecting than Clementina’s journey. Though born able-bodied, a childhood bout of meningitis resulted in a permanent disability that continues to make walking a challenge, but never diminished her agile mind or superhuman commitment to others.
Her talents are numerous. Besides mastering design principles and tailoring as a youngster, she also excelled at reading and writing, which sparked a love of learning that led to her first job after graduation as a teacher in a local program designed to cultivate empowerment among teens through instruction in basic employment skills like animal care and, fortuitously, tailoring.
Most members of Clementina’s community (including Clementina and her husband) earn the majority of their household income from subsistence farming. Even under ideal conditions, this is not an upwardly mobile lifestyle, as whatever crops are not consumed by the farmers and their families must be sold to cover material costs for the next season’s harvest.
Compounding this issue was the fact that with only one major corn harvest per year, there was no room for error if she and her husband hoped to earn a year’s income from their crops. Even in the increasingly unlikely event that everything went smoothly during growing season, Clementina and her husband routinely found themselves hindered by their difficulty obtaining a fair market price for their corn, meaning there were fewer and fewer resources available to cover their household needs and the cost of education for their two children. In order to stretch their savings as far as possible, the family had to reduce their daily meals from three to two to one, and frequently had to skip one day’s meal so they could have food the next.
The stress of food insecurity was compounded for Clementina by the fact that the lack of household income meant that she and her husband were unable to send their children to school. Her background as a dedicated, decorated student, as well as a longtime self-made instructor meant education is one of the most highly valued things in her life, and she knew exactly how much her children were missing by staying home.
As more time passed without any positive changes in her situation, Clementina’s hungry mind turned to her available options. For most of her life, Clementina’s affinity for tailoring was put to work in small favors for friends and neighbors. With a little initiative, word spread in the community that they had a seamstress among them, and she was taking new clients.
Clementina’s work ethic and high standards meant that each task was labor-intensive, time-consuming and cost-ineffective – far to much work for just one pair of hands. Sewing a single dress demanded days and days of effort; time that would have otherwise been put toward other, simpler income-generating activities.
As with all of Outreach’s partners, she did not have to face things alone. Once the community recognized the need for a local tailor, and the benefits having one would offer beyond addressing demand, neighbors facilitated a plan to offer more than encouragement: Twenty-eight local participants embarked on a project to turn what was once a needle-in-a-haystack operation into a haystack composed entirely of needles.
Participants raised startup capital by soliciting small donations from other community members, which they matched with their own contributions. These funds were used to acquire necessary tools like scissors, thread, fabric, chalk and measuring tape, in addition to notebooks and pens for recording the finer points of instruction. Meetings and instructional clinics were held in group members’ homes as they learned the fundamentals of tailoring and helped Clementina tackle her mounting workload, while also growing into a group of experts whose work would encourage future business from satisfied customers.
Patching the Fabric
Thanks to their dedication and success, the group was awarded 1.8 acres of local land by their community’s chief to formally and permanently implement their tailoring operation, inside a new, simple structure that gives everyone room to work and keeps materials and inventory safe during off-hours.
Clementina’s ingenuity and perseverance, combined with the fundamentals of Outreach’s facilitation, mean that her new tailor shop is so much more than advertised. Beyond providing ongoing sewing instruction to community members, all participants are being trained in the basics and best practices of simple bookkeeping, which coincides with the opening of a group-managed savings account for their funds and income, where they’ll be able to accrue interest on their growing balance.
We know as well as you that this is barely the first act of Clementina’s story of triumph, with so much more good news yet to come in the years ahead. Her mind, skills, attitude and ambition continue to sow new awareness, understanding and experience within herself, and throughout the fabric of her community.
How to Help
You can help women like Clementina tailor their circumstances and find a perfect fit for their talents and skills by directly supporting them through a donation to Outreach. Empathy looks good on everyone!