With the weather starting to get noticeably colder in Masiphumelele we were delighted to be able to distribute more tracksuits to the children on Ukhnayo Primary School this week. Back in March we began to hand out track suits thanks to a donation from Will Bennett, James Williams, and Chris Norqual – three of the five founding members of American clothing company, SOMB, (SHIRT OFF MY BACK). This week a further 180 track suits were delivered to the school following financial support from Linda Dobbs, who has been a long-time supporter of our work.
Once again the Sewing Café have produced the tracksuits and the project is continuing to provide regular work the ladies. This batch was only small and medium track-suits with the large versions due to be completed next week. Yesterday saw a steady stream of grade 1 pupils arriving to be sized-up and kitted out with their new outfits.
Another of Masicorp’s long-time supporters was present to witness the tracksuit handover. Lord David Hacking has been a very generous supporter of Masicorp’s work and was visiting Masiphumelele to view progress on various projects before returning to the UK later this week. He also enjoyed seeing the happy faces of the students as they were collected between classes to pick-up their track suits. Looking ahead at the weather forecast and feeling the chill in the air around the school this week the delivery could not have come at a better time.
Earlier this week Masicorp was pleased to host Will Bennett, James Williams, and Chris Norqual – three of the five founding members of American clothing company, SOMB, (SHIRT OFF MY BACK). The four letter word, SOMB, is an abbreviation for the widely-used expression in pop culture, “shirt off my back.” Based in Los Angeles the company describe their product lines as, “an eclectic mix of t-shirts, tank tops and hoodies inspired by California’s relaxed street style.” Since their formation in 2010, SOMB attire has become popular with celebrities worldwide including Desperate Housewives actress, Eva Longoria (right) and the London Wasps rugby team (below).
SOMB is a fashion company with a conscience and for every article of clothing they sell in the United States they provide a school uniform to a child in Africa. Will and James initially contacted us with a view to including Ukhanyo Primary School among the many schools they work with in Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa. Unfortunately at the time the school year had just begun and most children were already fitted out in their new uniforms. However, we are not far away from the Cape winter, which is a time when children find their uniforms are not warm enough for the cold and damp conditions. SOMB therefore kindly agreed to fund the provision of school track suits to each child and we arranged for the first batch of fifty to be made ready for this week.
This has also been good news for the Sewing Café – another of Masicorp’s projects in the township. The ladies have been awarded the contract to produce the tracksuits and proudly showed off the freshly prepared garments to Will, James, and Chris on their arrival. Over at the school we later saw several children already proudly wearing their tracksuits after the first batch was delivered earlier in the morning. With the continued support of SOMB and the hard work of the ladies of the Sewing Café every child will be wearing warm clothing over their uniforms this winter. This is a great initiative, not just for the children but also the Sewing Café who have picked up a significant amount of work through the project.
It was just left for the children to show off their football and basketball skills to Will, James, and Chris who were kept on their toes by some skilful and enthusiastic footwork from the youngsters. All of SOMB’s founders are keen sportsmen and first met over a game of hockey so it was the perfect end to an action packed morning. We cannot thank SOMB enough for their generous financial support, which has made a real difference in Masiphumelele. It was a pleasure to host Will, James, and Chris and we look forward to seeing them again in the future.
It has been a busy start to the year with students heading back to school, college and university but over at The Sewing Café, situated between Masiphumelele and Kommetjie, a new class of adult learners is also making a fresh start. Eleven ladies from the township have started the six-month life skills program with a view to graduating in July and owning their own sewing machine. They also had a special visitor this morning as Masicorp founders John and Carol Thompson were in attendance, together with Jane Philippi from the USA funding team.
Each morning the women are tutored to improve their English language skills and learn basic computing skills. Today they were pleased to take a short time out to chat to John, who was amazed to find that some of the attendees had been living in Masiphumelele for as long as 25 years. There are eleven women in each six-monthly intake and this year only one of them had completed matric while not a single learner had ever used a computer before the course started. The course really is a life changing experience for everyone who can attend.
The course also supports Nonny’s bakery in Masiphumelele who provide lunch for the ladies each day.
After lunch the practical classes start with each learner having their own sewing machine to work on. On successful completion of the course each learner gets to keep the machine hence there is a real incentive to keep attending. With the course fees completely covered by Masicorp, the program has become very popular in Masiphumelele. In fact all of this year’s attendees heard about the course by word of mouth and its popularity ensures there is no need to advertise for places.
Each lady will work on a practical project to complete a dress for their graduation later in July. They get significant assistance from graduates of previous courses who return as assistants. In fact four of the six teachers on the course are former graduates of the program. The life skills are taught by volunteer Wendy Ryan from Evangeline Ministries who took the time to show our overseas visitors around today. It is Wendy’s seventh year of running the program and we cannot thank her enough for all of her efforts.
Wendy’s hope for the future is that the commercial arm of the project will take off and provide more work opportunities for the graduates. Previously we have reported on their efforts to help the local community. Athene Kannmeyer, who manages the commercial work explained that several students return to work on contracts with local clients including bag making and mattress linings for crèches. Later this year two quilts produced by the team will go on exhibition with a view to being marketed in the USA. Another organisation they will be working with in the future is the Sparrow Society –a local social enterprise. Many of the graduates work from home and a group are even looking to join together and form their own business but the more commercial projects that the sewing café can secure the more work they will be able to guarantee for graduates.
This year Reddam House, one of Cape Town’s most well regarded private schools will be putting on a production of Peter Pan as their primary school play. This is good news for Masiphumelele because the ladies of the Sewing Café have been tasked with producing 125 costumes for the grade 1 and 3 pupils involved.
The Sewing Café is located in a non-profit skills training centre on the edge of Masiphumelele and forms part of Masicorp’s adult education training program. The training program is managed by Athene Kannmeyer and offers 25 unemployed and unskilled members of the community the opportunity to develop their sewing skills with a view to starting their own business or joining the job market. Applicants are interviewed and can be accepted onto the one year course, which Masicorp has been able to keep free of charge.
During the course the students also learn essential English and IT skills. They start by producing an individual item of clothing as part of their own specific project. As they become more skilled there are more opportunities for commercial activities.
Recently in an attempt to increase the self sufficiency of the project the Sewing Café has launched its own website.
After already producing materials for local guest houses the project for Reddam House is their biggest commercial endeavour so far. Here is hoping for many projects to come their way in the future.