Lwala is a beautiful farming village in the western part of Kenya, Africa. It is a beautiful landscape of rolling mountains that surround lush fields of corn, sugar cane, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables that are more exotic to my southern roots. There are fallow fields nestled among the cultivated crops that speak to my need for a bit of wildness and rest. In the midst of this Eden lays the Lwala Community Alliance. It is home to a clinic, an education program, and the Lwala sewing cooperative. I came here with my family to spend the week meeting the women who participate in the cooperative so that we could develop some new products.
I have spent the days sitting with the women sewing in a 1200 square foot tin building where they operate manual sewing machines and produce school uniforms, reusable menstrual pads, and kits for Thistle Farms. Christine, who is 32 years old and the mother of seven children, is a charismatic leader who explains with ease how she moved here when she got married. She also talks about the prevalence of domestic violence among women and how earning a living frees women from that struggle because they no longer have to "ask their husbands for money for food." She and the other women heard about the job opportunity from posters hung at the clinic and schools and applied in 2009 when the cooperative began. Being paid for work not only gives them hope for their own lives she explains, but also, "It makes it possible for the children to attend school." She explains, "When I was young there were many hardships…” and without lifting her eyes from the task of sewing she says, “but I left home and went to a polytechnic school even though my family was against it and learned how to sew."
Other women in the group had parents who died early and are trying to stay healthy while living with HIV. They buy utensils, clothing and food as well as pay for their children to go to school, and it is on their minds as they are trying to sew some 200 bags before I leave. There is a young sewer in the group who has one four-year-old son. She has completed high school and dreams of going to college. She says that this job allows her to save money to someday help make her dream come true. Jane, who is the mother of seven children, never went to school and cannot read or write. "It’s important to me that my children can learn," she explains. She thanks me for the interview and for asking her important questions.
by Becca Stevens