The environments they work in are heartbreaking, but they are achieving real success in helping the poor and sick become self sufficient. Both centres work with all those working or living in the slums, regardless of colour or religion, both inside and outside Nairobi.
The first is St John's Community Centre Pumwani which was set up as an Anglican mission in the 1950s to provide aid and education to the residents of Pumwani. Over the years their activities have changed and developed away from providing emergency aid towards economic and social empowerment. They run projects as diverse as an informal school, health outreach to AIDS & others suffering long term ill health, volunteer legal advice, youth engagement, a football team, scretarial and sewing schools, tailoring groups, manufacturing businesses, and the provision of safe clean water and sanitation in the slum 'villages'.
The second is City Harvest Ministries which was set up by Pastor Edward Simiyu in 2003 (they don't appear to have a website at present). City Harvest amongst its many projects including an AIDS & HIV testing and advice centre, children's and youth work and training, is a partner of the Norwegian NGO Kibera Transformation and Development Programme in whose building in the centre of Kibera slum (which used to be a nightclub) houses the sewing and embroidery and knitting schools, and whose teachers are also involved in teaching and promoting the informal tailoring groups in the area.
Many of the students are 'housegirls' whose employers invest in their education so the skills learnt can be used in their work, others are from rural areas or the slums themselves who hope to go on to setting up their own businesses to provide for themselves and their families. The students have to provide their own sewing kit (needles, scissors, pins, tape measure etc) and fabric - often the only fabric they can afford to use for learning or practising on is third or fourth hand and very dirty, although examination fabric has to be new.
The equipment is largely powered by treadle machines although both centres do have electricity. Amani at St John's have an industrial singer machine powered by electricity; KTDP and City Harvest would love to have this facility. The vast majority of machines are treadle powered vintage Singer (or Chinese replica imports) which break down due to inferior quality parts and the difficulties of ensuring proper maintenance.
In the past both centres' activities have been severely curtailed due to staff illness and mortality (whose skills are then lost to the community), due to civil disturbances and the resulting destruction of equipment and property (so the centres' businesses fail as they cannot afford to replace the stolen or broken equipment) and due to lack of resources generally. As such, although when I pass the funds to the centres I will ask them to prioritise resourcing the sewing schools, the centres may have more pressing needs and so whilst all the monies will be spent on the centres' projects, there is no guarantee they will be spent entirely on the sewing/ tailoring/ knitting schools work.
A refurbished Singer hand powered or treadle machine costs around £50 which is beyond the reach of most students, and it takes about 5 years those who can obtain a loan or save up to achieve this: some are not able to afford this and must rely on hand sewing for an income. Those who fall ill (there's around 30% HIV infection rate in the slums) are unable to continue hand powered or treadle machine sewing as they don't have the necessary energy. There's a real need for skills that these women can continue to use even when they are weak or have no access to a machine, such as hand embroidery or hand piecing patchwork to ensure they can continue to earn a living no matter their circumstances.