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Once again I am back in Africa!
Monday, 07 November 2011 Written by Valerie Kae Ken

Once again I am back in Africa!With great excitement, I arrived in Kivumu on September 21st to do some more volunteer work at the tailoring section of CFJ Padri Vjeko School where ten years ago, I first designed their two year teaching program.

I have been coming to Africa for the past fifteen years and to Rwanda for the past ten. This time I have come for two months. Over these many years of coming to Africa, I have found that it takes a minimum of two months to really accomplish anything... especially if one has never been here before! You see, things in Africa invariably take at least two to three times as long to do.

Before coming, as always, I had my own agenda. I had it all laid out in my mind what I wanted to do on this visit. I was full of ideas for what I wanted to accomplish... Of course, I should have known better!

Always... Always... there is something else to do... smiles! On my first day, I was told that the making of one hundred and fifty school uniforms for next year’s students was a priority. Normally, these uniforms are made by “local tailoring methods”... this means using a set of the individual student’s measurements and applying them in a basic formula by drawing with a chalk directly onto the fabric. This is then cut out and made up – one, by one, by one... You can imagine how time consuming this is for one hundred and fifty garments... not to mention how inaccurate the results can be!

We were greatly aided in this work by the fact that electricity has come to the area... finally! What a difference it is making to the lifestyle of the people... partly good and partly not-so-good (but that is another story for another time...).

So it seemed a perfect opportunity to introduce “production making methods” to both the teachers and the second year students. The first thing to tackle was to see that the students mastered the art of accurately sewing seams of 1 cm and 1.3 cm (two measurements we would be using on all the garments). So we gave them a “practice section” so we could choose the best sewers of the class to do the work. Meanwhile we were laying out the fabric in layers and marking the pattern pieces that we had drawn up in preparation for the cutting. A number of the students were very “original” in their method of cutting and ended up on top of the tables, scissors in hand!

Keeping all the students busy and keeping everything in order became a real challenge! They were so enthusiastic and all were eager to be occupied. Praising their work made them try all the harder. Some were busy with the irons applying interfacing material (to stiffen the inside of collars, for example), others were using our overlock machines to finish the edges of the pieces, while still others were sewing the pieces together. It was coming along very well and they were amazed how much more quickly the work was being done by using this method.

At the end of the first week of “production”, I felt that the hard-working students deserved a “treat”, so I asked them to come back from their lunches with clean fingers so they could enjoy a snack of Canadian maple syrup cookies that I had brought with me. They loved them!

But then they had to go on their “work experience” – you see, near the end of their second year, they go out to nearby (and some farther away) businesses and for a few weeks, they apply the skills they have learned. So I suddenly lost my work force... sigh!

But... of course... there was another task to tackle... In the container we had sent from Canada last year were lots and lots and lots of bed sheets of all shapes and sizes. The beds at the friary and at the building that houses volunteers uses only two dimensions, so we (the teachers, the “teacher trainees” and myself) set to work and for the next two weeks we turned out an impressive pile of fitted and flat sheets complete with pillow cases that they badly needed. Accompanied by music from my iPad, we happily enjoyed listened to a variety of tunes while we all worked very hard.

The best part of this entire experience was getting to know the teachers and the “trainees” and letting them get to know and to trust me... I love this part the most... the personal interaction that allows each of us – no matter where one is born - to connect and find “common” ground. It is great to be back!

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