(Gina Adams) – The Reap What You Sew tailoring school in Malawi sustained substantial floor damage after Cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March. Additionally, several of the school’s graduates who were highlighted in the award-winning documentary, “Reap What You Sew,” lost their homes and businesses. But founder Dr. Deb Waterbury says, thankfully, no lives were lost.
“We were saddened to learn that both Rose and Linda who were featured in the film lost their homes and Rose lost her business as well,” says Waterbury. “We have estimates now that $5000 will cover the cost to fix the school’s floors as well as rebuild these students’ homes and businesses. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money to people here in the U.S., but that will literally rebuild three homes, two businesses, and repair our school’s foundation. Someone can write a check today and change the lives of dozens of families.”
The third Reap What You Sew graduation took place earlier this year, and the fourth graduation is slated for September. Since the school began a little over two years ago, over 80% of the graduates have started their own businesses. The women enrolled at the Reap What You Sew school attend a six-month program and receive a sewing machine and supplies free of charge, as well as accounting and bookkeeping training. Students are required to pay 500 kwacha (about .70 cents per month) so they are personally invested, and they must maintain an 85% attendance record to stay in the program. Most of the school’s expenses— tuition, teacher salaries, sewing machines, fabric, and other necessities— are covered by tax-deductible donations from individuals and companies.
“We choose women who are economically in dire straits, and a large percentage of women in Malawi fall into that category,” says Waterbury. “This recent storm only heightened the poverty in these countries, and they will need this school more than ever since much of the crops have been flooded. Our plan is to open branches of this school in other needy countries in Africa, and my ultimate goal is to offer additional training for culinary arts, aesthetics, and other necessary skills in addition to tailoring.”
Dr. Waterbury says this project is a free market solution that offers women a hand-up, not a hand-out.
“We do a lot of talking in our country about empowering women, but this is the real deal. The people and companies who support our efforts are being the hands and feet of Jesus in a very real way as they give these women the opportunity to learn a skill that will sustain themselves and their families for a lifetime. Many of these women are left widowed by AIDS or are left by their husbands for a myriad of reasons. Since graduating from our school, these women are getting bank accounts for the first time in their lives, and are now able to pay school fees for their children. We are literally changing the culture in one of the poorest countries in the world, one woman, one business at a time.”
The Reap What You Sew school is the subject of an award-winning documentary that has been broadcast on NRB TV and GEB America networks, among others. The film was given the Award of Recognition at the 2019 IndieFEST Film Festival, joining the ranks of Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges, “Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert, movie and TV star Danny Glover, and Emmy winner Jeff Daniels, among others. Most recently, the film garnered honors at the Global Shorts festival as well as the Best Shorts competition, all of which are mainstream film festivals.