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An assembly-line of community work: Women in production!

Updated: 3 days ago

We might associate assembly lines with large-scale, commercial and impersonal production. However, the classes that are currently underway give production new empowering and intimate meaning. Yes We Can South Africa Foundation was selected by the City of Cape Town Community, Arts and Culture Development to equip women with sewing and entrepreneurial skills, free of charge. In exchange, women are encouraged to bring with them a learning spirit.

These classes are a 6-week program, where every 2 weeks, a new set of 20 participants are trained to craft by hand and using a sewing machine various items such as headbands, shopping bags, drawstring bags, garments, bow ties, cooking bags, cosmetic bags with lining and zipper, soft animals and aprons. We interviewed the women at Mowbray Town Hall who learnt all these items, even though most of them had no prior experience with sewing.

Observing the women as they learned, they seemed like a group of lifelong friends, excited to be there, learning, and sharing knowledge with each other. Even though the sewing stations were set up in a similar fashion to an assembly-line with parallel lines, it seemed as though it was a group of friends in the active pursuance of a collective project. This could be observed through the women’s crossing into each other’s stations - they did this either to watch the progress of their fellow classmates, encourage each other or to see how they could refine their skills or simply seek assistance from the experienced facilitators. One such trainer is Phakama Ntsodo. She dreams not only of opening a bigger sewing shop, but also a coffee shop. In admiration her students referred to her as a pro at sewing. She extends the same enthusiasm as she herself expressed that she sees potential in them! With their eager learning spirit, how could she not!

One of such students we spoke to was Zimkhitha Mbotoli. She emphasized that “It’s about the attitude…If you tell yourself that you want to learn you will learn”. First of all, Zimkitha radiates fun and welcoming energy that draws many of her fellow students radiate towards her. Often found singing and sharing laughs while sewing, her vibrant personality is reflected in her colorful apron, initialed with the letter Z. With great enthusiasm, she expressed her aspirations to own her own business one day. Starting with no knowledge, she proudly exclaimed, "I knew nothing but can now do everything." Whether a customer has known her of years or has only just met her, we are sure that they will become loyal customers. We are confident that both her energy and knowledge will make good ingredients for a flourishing business!

Nomonde Makapela, another student, is proactively involved in advocating for the empowerment of her community. Since 2019, she has been advocating for improved service delivery of essentials such as toilets, water, electricity and more. She joined the sewing program to empower herself in the present and future, aspiring to become an entrepreneur. “I want to get there, and I will” she boldly proclaims.

This determination is shared by all the women we spoke to. However, Vina, Nontle and Zimkitha have expressed a common issue: access to capital. The City of Cape Town will be giving them a basic starter kit but they will also require a machine, fabric and other accessories. Yes We Can is also sharing with the participants fabric and trims we kindly receive from TFG Foschini group. Students are already making use of the new skills acquired and are making garments for themselves!

In addition to practical skills, the women receive comprehensive entrepreneurial education, covering topics such as financial management, administration, sustainability, and life skills. Additionally, the computer skills that are required to operate a business. Merunisa Ismail, one of the teachers, admiringly noted that many of these women understand money management from running their households, viewing business as an extension of these principles. With their evident abilities, willingness, and drive, these lessons serve as a launching pad for their entrepreneurial futures that can overcome many barriers of running a business.

“It takes a village to raise a child”, likewise, it takes community to build a nation. Not only were YWC and the Social Workers from the City of Cape Town key role-players but also guest speakers from several organizations such as Taking Care of Business, Gangstar Cafe, Learn to Earn South Africa and The Craft Design Institute also contributed. Many hands have joined in this program, and likewise many hands are passing through it. It has taken the community that the women shared while these organizations played their part. The empowerment of communities requires the same principles embodied by the assembly-line of community the women expressed. Everyone in their capacities contributes and works towards one vision, while sharing in each other’s humanity.

Access to capital is an ongoing issue and one that many hopeful entrepreneurs need to overcome. However, they have earned tangible, sustainable skills to enable them to overcome any barriers that business might present. This aligns with our mission and vision at YWC and there are many who share in the success stories as testament to this! We eagerly anticipate the day of graduation as they receive their certificates as symbols of their resilience, knowledge and power! All the best to the women who have been participating in the program!

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