In Her Words / A letter from Catherine Malalah to Ibu Allies

Catherine Malalah

Dear Ibu Allies,

I am excited to share with you the work of Kiwimbi Kenya in the village town of Amagoro, located very close to the Ugandan border in Western Kenya. Kiwimbi is a Swahili word that means ripple or small wave. Kiwimbi International was formally established in 2012, with a mission to partner with underserved communities to create educational opportunities through locally-run libraries and community learning centers. We believe that as you foster a person's education, that person can build a better life for themself, their family, community, and country, like a ripple moving across a pond, multiplying the impact.

For children, and many adults, escaping poverty has little to do with desire or ambition, but much more to do with opportunity. To provide vulnerable groups with access to education, Kiwimbi has developed a variety of vocational training programs that teach practical and in-demand job skills in a workshop-based setting, including art, carpentry, and tailoring. We offer our services free of charge, and go a step further to provide additional opportunities to our trainees including placements in local businesses, access to financing and markets, and mentorship and counseling.

students focusing on handwork and the art of tailoring

Clockwise from upper left: tailoring instructors, Florence and Rael, with KI volunteer Naomi Slozat; students focusing on handwork; and the art of tailoring.

One program, The Teso Women Sustainable Sewing Project, happened unexpectedly. Kiwimbi had been singularly focused on promoting English literacy to help children pass the national exam and make it to high school. It soon became clear that only about 30% of our children could pass the exam, and that some had already dropped out and were being passed by academically. We noticed that most of the dropouts were girls forced into early marriages at ages 14 to 17 years old.

Our sewing project helps these young women to learn a skill that enables them to feed themselves and their children. Students are trained in embroidery, how to take cloth measurements, cut patterns, stitch and repair clothing, and make complete sets of school uniforms which are mandatory in Kenyan schools. This makes for a ready market for our graduates. 

The most exciting part of the program is when I see students mending and altering school uniforms for their own clients who then pay them directly for their work. For these women it is the first time they have earned and held their own cash—an empowering and revealing moment. They experience the feeling of independence, of earning a livelihood and buying food at the market on their way home. This self-realization changes the trajectory of their lives!

New sewing machines

New sewing machines were purchased and delivered with the funds provided by a grant from the Ibu Movement.

This year, we were awarded a grant from the Ibu Movement that allowed us to purchase additional sewing machines and hire a new master instructor. The funds enabled us to double the intake of girls in the program to twenty, with a new cohort of ten students. We consistently have over 60 applicants each year so the interest is keen. Being able to call the ladies who applied four years ago and find them still waiting is a priceless, joyous experience that will never get old!

I believe it will take the work of everyone, putting in effort, for our communities to not only survive but to thrive. I am inspired by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote: The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to make a difference, then you have lived and lived well. Thank you, allies of the Ibu Movement, for providing the means and the marketplace for women to rise, through the art of their hands, into financial self-sufficiency.

The Teso Women Sustainable Sewing Project

With Gratitude,
Catherine Malalah
General Manager, Kiwimbi Kenya