Monday, 30 July 2007

Knitting for survival

From The Standard, Kenya

Esther was born in a Nairobi slum, the eldest of five children. When her father died when she was seven, her mother took the family back to the rural area they had come from so that she could set up a vegetable selling business.

Then Esther’s mother died leaving the children to fend for themselves. Esther and her siblings took jobs at the weekends and in school holidays, and as soon as Esther had taken her exams in 2001, at the end of her primary education, she left school.

Determined to earn enough to look after her younger siblings, she accepted an offer of employment back in Nairobi but discovered that she wouldn’t be paid. She left, moved in with a relative and found out about the knitting project.

Lillian was also born in a Nairobi slum. Her parents died within a year of each other and at 14 she found herself head of the family, the eldest of the three siblings. Although they were taken in by an aunt, Lillian had to drop out of secondary school because the fees were too much for her aunt who had three children of her own.

She was helping with her aunt’s business when one day she heard about a place where girls meet and learn to knit.

The scheme is an initiative of the Mathare Mothers’ Development Centre (MMDC). It has eight knitting machines on which it trains girls to knit baby clothes and sweaters. The girls can then sell whatever they produce, marketing their wares being one of their main problems.

Although they have free use of the machines, they have to pay for their materials, for maintenance and repair, and contribute to the rental for the premises. Nevertheless the girls are able to send money home for their siblings’ education and to try to save up for machines of their own.

The MMDC leader, Anne Mbuthia, says that the training programme has had to be put on hold. They have only eight machines and up to a hundred girls wanting to be trained.

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