There are many special elements that make Tubahumurize what it is, one of which is our sewing school. Our seventh cohort of students are currently halfway through their ten months of training. Each year, twenty students join the school to learn sewing and embroidery, as well as to participate in workshops on personal hygiene, women’s rights, English, project management and entrepreneurship. All students also receive a healthy lunch each day, and have access to individual and group counselling. The school is completely free of charge, and is specifically for women in need. As is common in Rwanda, information on the program spreads primarily through word-of-mouth, and women seek out Tubahumurize to join the school. The only requirement for prospective students is that they prove they are in need and unable to pay school fees. They are then accepted into the school on a first-come, first-served basis. Many of the women who join the school are looking for an escape from violent living and working conditions. Normally, students are between the ages of 18 and 25, but this year there are four young women in the class who are above age 25. These women have experienced domestic violence and came to Tubahumurize in search of an opportunity to learn new skills that can help them, and their fierce determination has made them star students. That said, all of the students in the school are hardworking and committed women who finish the year as highly skilled seamstresses and designers. Much of the credit for the success of this program goes to Epiphanie, the teacher. When Tubahumurize first opened the school, many teachers were interviewed and tested. Epiphanie was selected and has been the teacher at the sewing school for all seven years it has been running. In addition to teaching, she also finds time to make Tubahumurize’s “haute couture” products.
When the students complete their schooling, four or five of them each year are invited to join Tubahumurize’s cooperative. As much as Tubahumurize would love to have all the women join, it is simply not feasible. Members of the cooperative are chosen based on two factors: their performance in the sewing school, and their level of need. The rest of the women use their new skill set to start a business and work out of a local market or their village.
Jeanne, Tubahumurize’s founder, dreams of creating a school to train sewing teachers. The Rwandan government wants to dramatically cut down on the amount of clothing that is imported and has begun imposing heavy taxes on such items to do so. Jeanne realizes that this will mean there is a need for the amount of domestically produced clothing to grow. Her dream is meet this growing need by training seamstresses in the art of teaching so that they can go on to have their own classrooms and provide opportunities for more young women in need.
It is incredible to see how women can use a new skill set to impact their lives. Women graduate from Tubahumurize’s sewing school with heightened confidence and increased independence, as well as with a strong support network and new found sense of community.