Tailor-Made for Success

Story and photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

Thanks to the strong encouragement and support from her Child Champion mom, a young woman in Kenya masters a valuable skill that puts her on the path to becoming a successful and independent entrepreneur.

Laki, right, and her mom Lucy stand in front of their home.

On a typical school day, Laki’s day begins at 4 a.m. when she wakes up.

She showers and takes tea that she prepared the previous evening and stored in her thermos flask before rushing to school 1½ miles away.

Her high school offers lunch, so Laki never has to return home for that. When she breaks for home at 6 p.m., the first thing she thinks about is her tailoring shop.

Laki is usually eager to go home and find out from her mother if she got any orders from her clients.

But before going into the shop, being the eldest of five of this family living in poverty, she has to ask if there are any chores that she needs to help with first.

When Laki, 17, joined Rehema Hope Center 12 years ago, she never dreamed that she would be a tailor.

Learning a New Skill

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were at home because of the movement restriction in the country, she was helping her parents on their farm.

As the restriction of gathering eased, Laki was deep into farming because it was harvest time and she wasn’t aware that her Hope Center had resumed activities.

One day while Laki was working on the farm, one of her friends from the Hope Center who was passing by told her of the new skills trainings that had been introduced.

Laki was hesitant to leave her chores on the farm, but Lucy, her mother, urged her to go to the Hope Center with her friend.

Laki works on a project at her shop.

At the center, Laki decided to learn hairdressing, the same skill her mother has.

In addition to farming as a family and owning a small grocery kiosk, Laki’s parents also sell firewood and charcoal to earn a living. Lucy says she learned how to plait hair as a young girl, and occasionally still does that to earn income.

After Laki attended a few hairdressing classes, Lucy, who was closely monitoring her progress, realized she wasn’t really mastering the skill.

They again had a conversation and Lucy suggested that she try tailoring because she realized Laki wasn’t passionate about hairdressing. But Laki resisted the suggestion.

“The conversation bore no fruit because I wanted to do hairdressing, yet my mom had seen a potential of tailoring in me,” she says. “I was scared I would never know how to use the sewing machine and maybe never understand all theories of dressmaking.”

Laki shows some clothing she made with her sewing machine.

Lucy continued to encourage her. On the days that followed, they had more conversations, and, Lucy says, she trusted her daughter to be honest with her feelings and thoughts to her parents.

“My husband and I try to have conversations with our kids because we want to hear their thoughts even as we raise them,” Lucy says.

“After a bit of talking, I realized she was scared, so I encouraged her, and she finally accepted.”

As Laki began learning tailoring skills, Lucy would ask for her feedback on the process. On some days when leaving the market for home, she would drop by the Hope Center to check up on the progress her daughter was making.

After months, Laki was not only confident with the sewing machine, but she had also learned to repair clothes.

She had graduated from designing paper clothes to designing actual clothes.

The Biggest Surprise

When Lucy realized that Laki had mastered tailoring, she started thinking of how to ensure that she would continue mastering and practicing the skill when away from the Hope Center.

She realized that the best way Laki could master the skill was by getting her own sewing machine. But Lucy didn’t have the money for that.

At the time, the demand for firewood and charcoal from their customers had increased. So, Lucy took Laki with her to the bushes to fetch firewood as Laki’s father worked on preparing the charcoal and transporting it to their customers using his motorbike.

When they got money from the charcoal sales, Lucy invested her share into a savings group. Slowly, she saved enough to buy a sewing machine for Laki for the equivalent of $15. All this time, Laki did not know what her mother’s plans were.

Laki with her mom and her siblings.

So, one day in 2022, when Laki’s parents traveled 22 miles to Malindi town to get clothes to stock up a shop that Lucy was setting up, Lucy decided to buy the sewing machine.

When her parents returned home that night, Laki was preparing supper for the family. Then Lucy called out to her to unveil the surprise.

When Laki saw the sewing machine, she jumped and screamed and hugged her parents. She was ecstatic over her gift.

Her father then gave her a room to set up a tailoring shop in the business building he had constructed by the roadside. In addition to the machine and room Laki had received, her mother bought her all the other materials she needed to design dresses.

A Blossoming Business

Currently, Laki has customers from the village and makes money from making and selling dresses.

Her parents have also stepped in to teach her how to budget and save her money. They have also formed a savings group where Laki is learning to save and invest her money.

From her business, she has been able to buy herself a suitcase for her clothes, a study table and chair, and a thermos flask for her tea which saves her from lighting up a fire in the morning when rushing to school.

She was also able to save and pay for her school fees in the previous term.

Lucy says supporting kids in their skills is a sure way to empower them to be independent.

“I am grateful that today my daughter is responsible enough to run a business and manage her finances. I wanted to equip her with skills that I was never lucky to learn as a child after dropping out of primary school,” she says.

Lucy adds that when she got married at 18, she told her husband that they had to strive to bring up a different type of generation, given that they were both from very poor families.

“I never got an education. I learned most skills after becoming an adult, but I want my kids to thrive in life. This is why I must support them to independence, so that they can be impactful in the community.”

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