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A Bosnian Tailor in Kivumu
Thursday, 25 October 2012 Written by Branimir Mlakić

A Bosnian Tailor in KivumuAfrica reminds me of Bosnia, in my childhood - Ivo Mlakić tells us as we drive across the Rwandan hilltops. “As a child, just like these kids at the roadside, I too ran barefoot in the mud, dressed only in a shirt that reached down to my knees.” Ivo was born in 1949 in the parish of Bučići, near the town of Travnik in central Bosnia, into a gloomy postwar period when work was tough and people mostly lived off the land. Indeed, Ivo’s native country at that time greatly resembled today’s Africa.

After finishing primary school, he studied tailoring and then worked as a tailor his whole life – except during the last war in Bosnia when events forced people to put their lives ‘on hold’ and just fight for their bare survival. For more than 40 years Ivo has been working as a tailor, so one can say that he’s a real craftsman in his line of work.

Ivo is currently in Kivumu. Thanks to the courtesy of the management of “Fis” d.o.o., a company from Vitez (Bosnia) where he works, Ivo was approved a 45-day leave in order to come to Rwanda and share some of his practical knowledge and experience with the students and teachers of the tailoring section in our school. The students will greatly benefit from seeing a genuine tailoring craftsman in action, and we are certain that they will learn a lot from him. Apart from a substantial amount of tailoring equipment and materials - to the delight of our students - Ivo has also brought with him a cutting machine which enables us to cut as many as one hundred layers of fabric at once.

Everyone immediately got down to business... together with our teacher, Joseph Nzirorera, Ivo started working with the second year tailoring students, making overalls for the next school year’s new students. In addition to overalls, it is also planned for Ivo to work with the students, making trousers, skirts and blouses. “I’m delighted to see that students are really curious and eager to learn something new. They are bombarding me with questions, and I am constantly showing them how to make this or that on their sewing machines”, our Bosnian tailor is telling us, all excited. He communicates with the staff and students in French, a language he mastered during the eleven years he spent living and working in Paris.

“Of course, they are still students, so it’s normal for them to make mistakes. Nonetheless, I think they are pretty lucky, because their school is so well equipped! The school in which I learned my tailor’s trade, more than 40 years ago, had neither electricity nor any of the modern machines you have here in Kivumu. All prerequisites have been met here for the students to be able to learn their trade well.” Of course, there are also difficulties... in Africa, it’s hard to find good materials, threads, etc., and even when you find do something of acceptable quality, it’s often too expensive, especially for the local people. But somehow the school manages, and everything runs smoothly.

Ivo is soon to be joined by Valerie Kae Ken, the Canadian fashion designer who, among numerous other things, designed the program and curriculum for our vocational school. The two of them, each in their own area of expertise – Valerie in design and theory, Ivo in practical cutting and sewing – are going to join forces and during the coming several weeks, work with the students and teachers of the tailoring section to improve their skills and knowledge.

Africa is a continent of challenges. People who come here are often not ready for the situation that awaits them, because most of the challenges are ones they hadn't even imagined, let alone taken into consideration!  So, next time we’ll write more about how Valerie, Ivo, and our teachers and students have dealt with their latest African challenge...

Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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