Speed Reads

it wasn't all bad

This nonprofit helps people around the world learn the 'empowering' skill of sewing

Being able to sew is a valuable skill, one that can give a person the confidence to create their own clothes or even lift them out of poverty. Since 2005, the Sewing Machine Project has made it easier for people around the world to learn this craft.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, sewing instructor Margaret Jankowski of Madison, Wisconsin, heard a story that left her devastated: A woman in Sri Lanka had finally saved enough to buy a sewing machine and start working as a tailor, but when her village was destroyed, so was the machine. Jankowski told The Christian Science Monitor she had the idea to collect sewing machines "that people are getting rid of anyway," and also raised money for voltage converters and shipping.

With the help of the American Hindu Association, Jankowski sent five boxes to five orphanages in Sri Lanka and India, with each one containing a sewing machine, fabric, toys, and medical supplies. The machines were used by staff to make clothes for the children, and the kids were also taught how to sew. From there, The Sewing Machine Project was born.

The group has since redistributed 3,350 machines around the world. In places where there isn't reliable electricity, like parts of Guatemala, old Singers with hand cranks are sent. In Detroit, immigrant and refugee women and children from Yemen and Syria are learning how to sew on machines sent to the B.O.O.S.T. training program at Zaman International. It's a two-year program, and when it's done they can work from home, earning money from doing alterations and making clothes. "Sewing is very empowering," program director Gigi Salka told the Monitor. "You see it in a population that's lost hope; the ability to create a product is very powerful to them. They're so proud. They walk around saying, 'I made this.'"