Seventeen women from severely impoverished families join the Tailoring Vocational Training Program launched by Tzu Chi Haiti on May 14, 2021. Photo/Keziah Jean
By Johnson Chang, James Chen, Grace Wong, Ida Eva Zielinska
Translated by Diana Chang
Decide on a goal, invest willingly and joyfully, and you’ll grow,” was the message Veronique Supplice wanted to convey to her tailoring students. “If you don’t like sewing, then it’s useless. It’s just a waste of time. You can never make clothes well. But if you’re interested, you’ll make beautiful clothes within a month or two,” she said, sharing her tips for succeeding in the field.
Veronique was there to teach 17 single mothers, the first participants in a Tzu Chi Haiti work-for-relief initiative. The Tailoring Vocational Training Program, launched in May 2021, aims to benefit underprivileged families in La Saline, an impoverished Port-au-Prince neighborhood. Father Zucchi Ange Olibrice, a Tzu Chi volunteer as well as Executive Director of Oeuvre des Petites Écoles de Père Bohnen (OPEPB), a Salésians de Don Bosco school in Haiti, and three other volunteers are in charge of the ten-month program, offered free of charge and with a living allowance.
The Tailoring Vocational Training Program’s opening project, “Making Cloth Masks as Work-for-Relief,” was scheduled to start in early April. However, the organizers postponed it to mid-May due to public safety issues and fine-tuning of the plan. Now that the team had officially launched the Program, it could fulfill its goal of relieving suffering due to poverty, thus bringing hope and joy to struggling households.
Women in Haiti often reside in poor, low-quality housing. Some must live with their parents to make ends meet. Most have an unstable income and engage in low-paying jobs which don’t require professional skills or high mobility. The life challenges for single mothers, many of whom became pregnant as adolescents, are especially pronounced. Some are survivors of physical or sexual abuse due to gender- based violence.
For many reasons, participating in the Tailoring Vocational Training Program was a dream come true for each of the 17 single mothers. And, on the first day of class, all the sewing and tailoring instructors truly showed their dedication and patience towards their students, taking a turn to teach.
Molila Pierre demonstrated how to use the sewing machine step by step, sewing one stitch at a time until the students got the rhythm. “I’m very happy to teach students of all ages. It’s an honor; no matter who it is,” she explained. Veronique Supplice shared that, “We’ll work hard to teach the students some simple tasks, and some challenging ones to prove their sewing technique.”
In turn, Adcline Domercant highlighted proper concentration, “When you sew, you talk less and stay focused on your work.” She expressed how much she wants women and girls in Haiti to stop waiting for good things to happen. As the sewing machines and colored spools of thread began to rotate, the single mothers had also spun into action. They bravely took the first step, thread by thread, seam by seam, starting to stitch and sew a better future for themselves and their children.
One of the trainees, Esperance Aliancent, is pregnant and expecting her baby soon. The mother-to-be is attentive and already planning ahead for herself and her family, taking full advantage of this opportunity despite the discomforts associated with pregnancy.
A Milestone to Celebrate
Four months later and halfway through the program, on September 27, the 17 participants exhibited their sewing work. They had learned to make skirts, masks, and uniforms during that time, modeling what they had made during the celebratory presentation.
Father Zucchi was thrilled at how far all the students had come in terms of the skills acquired.
The teachers were equally excited about their students’ progress. Not only can they earn a better living through these skills, but they can also clothe their families and friends.
As for the students, all 17 women were over the moon, hardly believing how far they had come in just a few months, and eager to learn more, as one of them enthusiastically expressed:
In addition to learning various tailoring skills in ten months, the training program also incorporates Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s Jing Si Aphorism teachings within the courses. The wisdom and ethical principles in these succinct teachings will support students on their professional path, helping to guide their outlook and future choices and behaviors.
And, after completing the training, these 17 women will have gained the skills to work for any garment factory, paving the way towards a brighter future they might have never imagined before this opportunity.