When I met Abdulrazak Shamilla, a tailor at Fibre plaza, Luwum Street in the Kampala city centre. She looked weary from the day’s work yet she had more work to do on her sewing machine.
She ushered me into a small room with a wide open door, which is her workplace. Inside the room are two sewing machines, heaps of clothes stacked in boxes, new dresses and school uniforms hung on nails across the wall.
Shamilla is one of the beneficiaries of a free tailoring project that started in 2014, under the auspices of Ermine Erdogan, the Turkish First Lady.
When Abdulrazak completed her O-Level in 2008, at Bombo Army Secondary School, her parents could not afford college fees. Her dream was to become a hair dresser. She spent six years at home doing odd jobs, with no hope of furthering her education.
In 2014, she got married but she discovered how tough it was staying at home and depending on her husband for everything.
“I was fed up of home chores. I needed to earn. I needed to be productive. I wanted a skill to help me earn a living,” she says. In 2015, she told her husband how she had intentions of becoming a professional hair dresser. At the same time, opportunity struck; Abdulrazak’s neighbour told her about a free skilling project for women and girls that had started in 2014, in Kibuli, a Kampala surburb.
“My neighbor told me about the free tailoring project and I got interested. It was free and my husband encouraged me to pursue it. I enrolled in January 2016,” she says.
At that time, the tailoring project with its premises at Kibuli Primary Teachers’ College had been earmarked for married women and other older women. However, according to Abdulrazak, the would-be beneficiaries took the project for granted, despite the bonuses and other privileges the project offered. This triggered the project coordinators to make changes and decided to admit vulnerable women and girls in slum communities such as Kibuli.
At the time Shamilla joined, she was given a tailoring kit consisting of all the necessary materials for use. She also says the instructors gave practical lessons with less theory. For instance, she says she learnt how to make beads, earrings, making school sweaters, uniforms, dresses and gomesis.
After completing her course in 2017, a month later, she secured a job in one of the design outlets in town. She says she specialises in making dresses, uniforms and school sweaters.
“I can now afford to pay my bills. I also support my parents. Many of my friends got employed after graduating,” the seemingly happy woman explains.
Zulaika Nassazi, another beneficiary of the skilling programme, works at Jemba plaza. She was awarded a free sewing machine as one of the best students in her year, in 2016. She used it to establish herself in a world marred with unemployment and countless tailors. She says she has no regrets.
It is about skilling
When I visited some of the branches at Kibuli PTC and Old Kampala mosque, it was a beehive of activity. Automated sewing machines are placed in a vertical order with empty rows in between inside a large room. Each girl or woman is seated on one sewing machine. Many are too busy to even notice the presence of a stranger. Teamwork is a value they uphold.
The instructor’s desk is strategically located almost in the middle of the room to have a better view of each student. And she’s strict too because of competition from the other two branches and the possibility of her students failing assessment tests.
She intimates to me that students who learn the skills faster earn extra bucks and are given an opportunity to execute short term contracts whenever they are available. Towards the end of the course, each student is tasked to make a finished product that remains on display on the wall in the tailoring room.
Madina Nabukeera, the director at IUIU-Kabojja females’ campus says the project kicked off in 2014 at Kibuli PTC. In 2016, another branch was inaugurated at Islamic University In Uganda- Females campus Kabojja. In 2018, the third branch was opened at the Gadaffi mosque in Kampala. In December 2016, the project registered a total of 278 students at Kabojja. The 200 were orphans, school drop outs, widows and unemployed while the others were university students. Last year, more than 400 students graduated after a one-year free tailoring course.
“The course is entirely free of charge, and we provide everything. We only require students to report with a pair of scissors and tape measure. We train them in tailoring, fashion and design, free hands-on tailoring using a needle, hand crafts, embroidery and sweater knitting,” Nabukeera says
“We undertake continuous assessment and have methods of assessing a student’s level of competence after each level and awarding marks. We have two levels. Level one is for someone who is perfect at knitting.”
Nabukeera also says last year, more than 78 students failed assessment tests and did not complete the course. “We want our students to survive in the rapidly changing job market and we emphasise quality.”
Madina says they target orphans, school drop outs, widows and the unemployed. However, she says anyone interested in the tailoring course can join. She says: “There are no minimum requirements and the project favours all religious denominations.”
“We have a few sewing machines yet number of applicants keeps growing. We appeal to government to support our initiative with more machines and training materials. Some of the students cannot afford transport and meals.” Nabukeera explains
“The certificate awarded to our finalists is not recognised internationally. We appeal to the directorate of industrial training consider awarding national certificates to our students to enable them to compete favourably. Acquiring Level 1 national certificate in a vocational course is 150,000 shillings and Level 2 is 250,000 shillings, which many of our students cannot afford.”
Funded by TIKA and SENA, both Turkish humanitarian NGOs in Uganda in collaboration with other Islamic institutions, the project currently a branch at Old Kampala grand mosque, Kibuli and IUIU- Kabojja campus. The project has trained more than 400 girls.