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She Sews, He Sews

The newly refurbished Sewing Room is up and singing—when the pedals are all going at once it sounds like a roomful of birds.

Our online appeal for funding for the Sewing Room was posted on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day it we had the $500 needed to do the project, thanks to generous support from friends and family through Facebook. Our high school community covered 25% of the total costs.

The first part, cleaning and painting the classroom went right according to the schedule. My counterpart Kru Chenda and I worked closely on the budget at the beginning, but she took over as the general contractor and got the job done. Chenda kept impeccable records. The sewing machine repairman came to the school and fixed all the machines. They machines needed new belts, which he made out of scraps of fabric and rubber—the spinning belts make the sewing machines sing.

As the room began to take shape, Chenda and I met to discuss pedagogy and how to craft a syllabus. Although she has been teaching for over 12 years these were new ideas to her, yet she readily adopted my suggestions into the plan. We talked about scaffolding—the idea of building upon pervious lessons, of sequencing skills to culminate into something greater than the parts. First learn to sew a hem, next a buttonhole, then pretty soon you can make a shirt. I helped Chenda set up an email account and sent her curriculum suggestions culled from the American 4-H site. Chenda now has 12 lesson plans, enough to see her through the semester.

Chenda and I visited the Weavers Village at the Meas Family Homestay where I have an art club. They agreed to save scraps for the Sewing Room class to use for projects. We talked about things students could make and possibly sell, once they gained skills. A simple fabric pocket to carry chopsticks, or a cloth sling for take-away coffees are two ideas that might appeal to ecologically minded tourists and would require little fabric. The Weavers Village has outlets for handcrafts, and the Sewing Room may partner with them in the future.

This was by far the smoothest implementation of any of my Peace Corps projects. I believe because we took our time, discussing the concept of a sewing class, how to fix up the room and sewing machines, and how to develop the curriculum. It’s Kru Chendra’s Sewing Room now. She has six one-hour classes per week, with a total of 108 students, girls and boys. The school director is very proud of our project and has promised to host a Bon for the inauguration of the classroom with blessings from the local priests.

The students will learn to sew, which will benefit themselves and their families. They may also find outlets to sell crafts they make, thereby supplementing their family income. But best of all, students will gain confidence and pride at making something beautiful and useful. Something they can do for themselves.

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