A day in the life of… Jane, Mayamiko cutter, Chinaspo, Lilongwe, Malawi
I woke up at 5, just like every morning. It is getting light by then and the birds have been singing for a while. I put some water on the fire, a bigger pot for washing, and a smaller pot for cooking nsima, our local breakfast, for my youngest children. Aged 6 and 13, their appetite is the only thing that gets them out of bed! Within the next hour, everyone is washed and fed and ready for the day. The little one is off to primary school, a mile walk away, and the older one goes to secondary school a little further on. I have 4 other children, so 6 in total and I look after my elderly mother who lives with us.
School fees and life expenses are high and I would not be able to pay them if it wasn’t for my job.
What do I do?
I am the main cutter at Mayamiko, a fashion workshop which also has a training centre for the local community. It is still tough to get by, but what a change from two years ago!
I had learned from a friend that the Mayamiko project had moved in the area. I had no skills, but I was in real need for some money to pay school fees. My seasonal work selling beans was not enough and we were skipping meals. The younger children were falling asleep at school because of hunger. Their teacher told me.
So I trusted in God and I knocked on the door and asked if they had any casual work. And the answer was yes. For a few months I helped the team keep the workshop tidy and wash and iron fabric, and I observed the tailors, cutters and production managers. Every time training was on I would listen in as much as I could. I could hand sew and I was allowed to bring in the kids clothes and fix them using the machines, and I could also collect the very small pieces of scraps.
When the application for the new training round opened 6 months later, I asked if I was allowed to apply. To show how keen I was, I brought in a teddy bear and a door mat I had hand sewn with the small bits of fabrics I had been collecting. I could not believe it when after a few weeks I was offered a place in the Mayamiko training programme. I studied for 6 months with a small group of 5 women, we each had our sewing machine and a wonderful teacher, Charity. We got to eat together with the professional tailors every day, exchanging stories, experiences and tips. We got additional training on how to manage money, budget and plan to help us prepare for life after training. I had not learnt this before, so this was very helpful.
At the end of the course, we got an option to save some money and get a grant to buy a sewing machine. I had started making kids dresses to sell to help me save through our saving scheme organised by Mayamiko, and one day I went to the workshop to bring in some of my savings, and the best thing happened.
Paola, our founder was there, and I was asked to join an apprenticeship to become a professional cutter. Charity, who had been my trainer, had been promoted to main cutter, but was due to go on maternity leave in 5 months time and I had the chance to work towards covering for her while she was away. This meant I was to learn how to cut fabric in different sizes and shapes from a paper pattern. Cutting is very important because if you don’t cut well, it is very hard for tailors to sew well, and you can ruin a garment so easily. You have to be very careful and I have a big responsibility to my team when I cut.
I was so excited and worried at the same time. The workshop produces clothes and accessories for the Mayamiko brand which is sent out of Malawi and women all over the world buy and wear, so everything has to be perfect! I worked hard every day, for 8 hours. Having lunch together with everyone else really helped, so I could have a chat and a laugh and relax a little. And not worry about going hungry all day for it is hard to work on an empty stomach. I also got a chance to ask questions and understand more about how it all worked. It was the first time in my life I had a salary at the end of the month, and I knew exactly how much I was going to earn, and thanks to the financial training I could budget and prioritize.
After my apprenticeship I was told I was successful and Mayamiko offered me a full time job.
I now have a higher salary, paid sick leave, paid holidays and Mayamiko alsopays into the government pension scheme as well as a gratuity scheme, which is another way of helping us save.
It is more than a dream that I now have the safety of a monthly income and if I do my job well, I can keep growing and maybe I can also train to become a tailor. That would give me more skills for the future. I would also like to learn English better.
What makes me the happiest is that I can ensure my children and grandchildren have an education, and never have to go hungry. Because with an education they can choose what they want to become in life, all doors are open, and if they fail they only have themselves to blame.
So now it is time for my daily walk to the Mayamiko workshop. It takes me about 45 minutes and I use the time to pray and give thanks, and think about the day ahead. We are in between collections so today I am cutting some lounge shorts to go with our organic cotton T-shirts. They are a bit like pyjamas but you can also wear them for other things like relaxing and walking around the house or the garden, and reading.
And I have been given a challenge to be creative and cut some small animal shapes with our scraps, we don’t like wasting anything. We’ll use them to decorate wash bags and shoppers. We call ourselves a ‘Zero Waste’ workshop and believe me, we find a use for everything!
Every day is a bit different at Mayamiko, and we are all like a family. Sometimes we don’t get on, but we really care for each other.
Do I like the clothes we make for women all over the world? Some of them I love, some of them are a bit unusual for me.
But I love the fabrics that we choose. The dress I am wearing in this picture is made using some left over fabrics at the workshop. I made it myself. Do you like it?
Find out more about Mayamiko, and the vision of our founder, Paola Masperi, of #changinglives and #nurturingtalents and browse our pieces here: www.mayamiko.com
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