‘Sewing’ seeds of empowerment in women and girls


Tiyamike Sewing is supported by SIM Malawi project #96854 Tiyamike Women Empowerment

Proverbs 31:25 says: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come,” and this is the Bible verse which is crucial for Tiyamike (Chichewa for ‘Let us give thanks) Women Empowerment, the newest project to be run through SIM Malawi. The way the women, and vulnerable girls, are empowered is by learning to sew and having the potential to take the skills they learn and to turn it into their own business venture

The sounds coming from the ‘sewing room’ is distinctive on two levels. The first is the quiet hum, and occasionally louder sound, of a group of Malawian women enjoying their work and each others’ company.

The other is the distinctive noise of a number of, dare one say it, ‘old-fashioned’ treadle sewing machines at work. This is the background noise at Tiyamike Sewing, and the ladies are the latest group to be trained up at the Tiyamike Sewing School.

Founding Director: Jo Ong is the inspiration behind Tiyamike Sewing

The difference here is that the ladies are not just being taught skills, but are also being given an opportunity to set up their own business to help improved their lives and the lives of their families. They come two days a week for nine months to learn the skills and be given business advice and then, after graduation, they take the machines on which they have learned and set up businesses in their own communities, and to be discipled in the Christian faith.

There are currently two groups who meet at the School; one is made up of widows who have been selected because of their circumstances, the second is a group of vulnerable girls and some Pastors wives from the Africa Evangelical Church (AEC).

The woman behind the school is SIM Malawi missionary Jo Ong, and it was her vision which led to it being set up in the first place.

“I saw that many women in Malawi lacked income-generating skills as a result of their lack of education,” said Jo.

“With my background in teaching, creativity and running a small business, I felt that it was an area that I could serve the women of Malawi, using the gifts and experiences that God has given me. In 2014, I was approached by Olipa Ndekha, the wife of the then AEC General Secretary, asking if I would consider teaching the Chilomoni AEC women how to sew. I prayed about it and felt that God was indeed asking me to step forward in faith to teach the women.

The Colour Purple!  Some of the widows benefiting from the Tiyamike project in the main work room

“As a result of missed education, underprivileged or low income, women in Malawi are limited in income-generating skills. They are often reliant upon their husbands as the main breadwinner. This becomes a problem when the husband cannot find work, dies, or deserts the family, leaving the mother to care for multiple children with very little to no income. Because of the great needs of women in Malawi, we discussed the project with the local AEC churches who then identified women in need to take part in the sewing programme.”

Prayer Points

Please pray for:

1. Jo – for her work of teaching creatively, marketing the project on social media and administration

2. Stelia – as she develops her skills and knowledge base further

3.  Premises – these are rented. Please pray they can keep them

4. Finances – finances are always needed for new machines and fabrics. Pray the new project will help source new avenues of funding for the project

As important as giving the ladies the sewing skills at Tiyamike is the Bible Study and devotional time before each session. Currently the ladies are working through ‘Two ways to live’, a series which was developed by the Matthias Media in Australia which gave Tiyamike permission to translate into Chichewa to enable them to use it with the trainees.

The current sewing room is a long way (although not geographically) from where Tiyamike was first set up. Initially, the Ongs’ garage was large enough to house a small shop and to have space for a number of machines on which the ladies could train. Office work and storage spilled over into the family house so, when the next-door property became available, Jo and Operations Manager/husband Pete, decided to take it on for the School. The new property needed a lot of work before it could be used but now it has two training areas, a staff room, offices and even a classroom. The garage of the new facility houses the Tiyamike Shop.

Selecting women to be invited to join the school has been developed and refined over the years but there is one criterion that is vital: need.

“We have people who ask to join the school or are recommended by other people as those who could benefit from learning these skills,” said Jo.

“We have looked at how best to select, and now we have an application and interview system which seems to be working. We have ladies who have graduated from earlier courses who help, and our Programme Manager, Stelia Chabvi, who was on the first course, puts in a lot of hard work.

“What we are looking for is ladies who are in the greatest need to be potential trainees. We have turned away some who are in a position to look after themselves because of other skills or educational attainments. Stelia is now going to visit potential trainees at their homes, so she can see in what kind of circumstances they are living, as she talks and interviews them for a course.”

Currently there are two ladies from Nkhotakota on the shores of Lake Malawi who are boarding at the school, using what were formerly the staff quarters at the school.

The younger girls who have been trained (the current group are the second to go through the training) have been identified by the One Stop Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre. The Centre is a refuge for girls and women who have been abused, and some of the teenage girls who have come to Tiyamike have suffered much from family members and strangers. The youngest, who was 13 when she joined the course, delivered a baby not long after she started at Tiyamike.

As she looks for Tiyamike to empower the women and girls it trains, Jo is also considering the long-term sustainability of the project and also some new ideas, which she is starting to introduce.

“I think is important that we get Tiyamike to the point that, if I have to leave Malawi for any reason, the work will continue to help train and empower women and girls,” she said.

“When Pete and I went on our most recent Home Assignment we were away for several months, and Stelia took over the running of the school. There were a few hiccups but generally it went really well, and it has given Stelia a lot more confidence in her work. She now comes to me with ideas rather than just asking my opinion about things. That is great, and I hope she will be able to grow even more into the work.

“Peter and I are also working with a group of young people from the church which we attend, AEC Bangwe. These are young people who have finished school but cannot find jobs, so we are giving them skills to help them earn a living. With the girls I am getting them to crochet bags using old video and audio cassette tapes and also recycling plastics to make earrings.

“We have a few girls who are doing really well and are already looking at how they can use these skills. Some of them are even looking at the possibility of working with girls who have fallen into prostitution to give them an alternative means of earning money.

Garage shop: An Aladdin’s Cave of products made by the ladies in the Tiyamike Sewing School, all for sale!

“We have had some positive interaction with parts of the Malawian Government, and we are hoping that Tiyamike products will be featured in a Co-operative Shop which the Government is looking to set up as a showcase for organisations like us,” she said.

“Being a full project now with SIM Malawi will help us to raise funds to ensure Tiyamike can continue. We have expense on a regular basis as we have to source the sewing machines for each course we run. There is also the need to buy fabrics and so on. We are starting to use social media more regularly to market the sewing school and we are seeing some benefits from this.  There are a couple of people who are friends with us who have big followings of their own, and we hope this may bring positive results in the future.

“But for now, I am hoping and praying that the next 12 months or so will see us continuing to develop and run courses well and that more women and girls will leave us empowered and better able to grow their own businesses to help themselves and their families. I am also hoping that the staff we have will also develop and they will feel confident, and empowered, to be able to come up with new ideas for things we can do and how we can progress.

“We are in a good place at the moment, but there is always room for improvement, and I hope that over the next 12 months, as the new project beds in and more people know about it, we will be able to get to an even better place and, through our teachers and graduates, be able to offer assistance to empower women in some of the rural villages in which we have contacts.”