Saturday, May 29, 2010

“More WEEP women”

Tuesday morning the plan was for us to go to Mathare slum. Vickie was going to work with the women of a new WEEP project she was starting. Cathy, Michelle and I opted to go with her. The rest of the team jumped on the bus with Jen and Dave to visit one of the schools and a group who works with AIDS patients in Mathare.

When we were told we were going to a slum, I wondered where we were yesterday. That sure fit my definition of a slum, but little did I know. As we drove into Mathare slum, it was like entering a different world, like something you would only see on a movie set.

Vickie parked her jeep only a few blocks into the slum, because that was where the road ended. We walked only another block or so to the new WEEP project. Here, the women were making school uniforms for the children of Mathare.

It is another one of those things that an outsider cannot comprehend. The children in general wear rags or at best donated used clothes sent from the United States or Europe. When they go to school, however, they need to wear uniforms. When a family cannot afford food, how can they be expected to purchase school uniforms? Not only because of that do a lot of kids not go to school, but their parents also have to pay for their books. Yet Kenya is proud to offer a free education to its school-age children. I can’t quite figure that one out.

Vickie, too, could see that it was a huge problem. So, through HEART, she started a program in Mathare where widows with AIDS would sew school uniforms. They would earn an income from the sales and the families would have access to more affordable uniforms.

The building that was set up for their sewing room was medium size, but felt pretty cramped with six sewing machines and eight women. None of them have ever sewn before and because fabric is so expensive for them, they were practicing on paper bags. The walls of the room were lined with these small perfect clothes all made out of paper. The women were so proud of their accomplishments so far. That week they were supposed to be getting their first real fabric. The first uniforms they would sew would be for their own children. And for the first time ever their children would be able to go to school.

Mary is the woman of who locally runs this WEEP program. She is a pastor’s wife and a trained social worker. When she first moved into the slum with her husband, she felt so useless. There was so much work to do, so much despair but she didn’t know where to begin. Once she connected with Vickie, they were able to indentify young mothers in need of just such a project.

Mary’s church was just across the alley from the project’s sewing room and we ate lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and bananas there while Vickie shared the numbers with Mary. I wish I could remember the exact figures. If I recall correctly, Vickie estimated that within a month of the project being fully operational, the women would each be making the equivalent of $30 a month. Rent usually ran around $22.50 a month for most of the tiny cement rooms in the slums. I could see the wheels spinning in Mary’s head when she heard the numbers. Her eyes got big and a smile spread across her sweet face. “They can each afford their own place to live with their children,” she said.

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