The Fabric of a Bright FutureAugust 31, 2020
Note: The assignment and accompanying photos took place before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Sunlight streams through the arched windows of Gîte-école de Mbour—a skills training centre in Mbour, Senegal. Sitting at wooden tables, Dior Cisse and Yacine Diop chat animatedly while they cut decorative fabric and carefully run the material through their sewing machines.
These two women have come a long way since they began learning the basics of sewing. Having honed these skills and achieved professional qualifications, Yacine and Dior are embracing a brighter future.
Through membership in Association pour l’Émergence de la Femme (AEF), women and girls who are unable to receive an education are accessing affordable training in sewing and culinary arts at Gîte-école. As the hospitality sector continues to grow in Mbour, these qualifications equip women to enter the burgeoning workforce and start their own business or achieve employment in shops, hotels, and restaurants.
Given the lack of trained teachers in the field of sewing, AEF was eager to fill in this gap. In 2017, CESO and the organization created a partnership to ensure the students could obtain a certain standard of training that would prepare them for professional experiences.
For three years, CESO Advisor Mireille Gauthier dedicated herself to the success of the school, sharing her expertise in sewing, education, and organizational planning with teachers and coaching over 70 students to develop their technical proficiencies in sewing.
One of the first changes Mireille made was allowing the students to put their new knowledge into practice. In collaboration with Canadian organization Femmes Engagement Mondial, she organized donations of sewing machines and initiated practical workshops to supplement two years of lessons.
The cost of obtaining new fabric for the workshops soon became an obstacle. But with Mireille’s encouragement, the trainees discovered that by recycling used clothing they could breathe new life into old textiles, reduce waste, cut costs, and harness their creativity.
The long-term success of trainees depends on an organized school with well-equipped trainers. CESO’s support enhanced the school’s management practices and overall structure by introducing modified timetables, reference materials for teachers and a lesson documentation system.
Chekhoba Cissokho, who was in charge of sewing workshops, noticed a transformation after CESO’s arrival. “Mireille’s support improved the school’s structure and created a lot of beautiful changes, including the way workshops are run,” she shares.
With the chance to practice their newly acquired skills, students are increasing the quality of their work, creating their own sewing patterns, and taking on more challenging garments.
“These women were finding their passions,” recalls Mireille.
Passion paved the way to entering the field. Eight graduates created portfolios to start obtaining contracts and many are using their skills to generate an income.
Dior, 30, is one such entrepreneur. “I sell jewellery, crochet hooks and clothes for little girls that I’ve made,” she shares. “I also sell little cakes in my village and worked in a restaurant while continuing this personal enterprise. I am able to take care of my daughter and certain needs of my family.”
Dior’s hardworking schoolmate Yacine has also set up her own business—a sturdy white-walled shop big enough to house a wooden table, sewing machine and endless imagination and innovation.
Meanwhile, Gîte-école de Mbour has seen a higher enrolment rate than ever before, with more women acquiring skills for employment as well as one other important lesson to carry them through life.
“The most important thing I learned is to have the self-confidence to succeed, without depending on anyone else, but by using my own skills as an entrepreneur,” shares Dior.
With each stitch, Dior, Yacine and their classmates are building a future as bright as the colourful bags, aprons, pants, and dresses they handcraft so well.
Program undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.