Forty women had enrolled in a six month sewing training program with uncertain hopes of learning a new technical skill that could potentially lead to job opportunities.The women were nervous, excited. Daunted by the six months ahead. Not many of the women had previously completed any formal training. Seven of them are illiterate. Only four earned university degrees.
All the women are active homemakers. They prepare four meals a day from scratch, wash clothes, squeegee the floors, tackle mountains of dishes, and juggle their children’s school schedules. “My daily schedule exhausts me”, one sewer named Fatiha confesses, “but I’m committed to benefit from sewing as much as I can.” They feared that taking 10 hours a week to learn to sew was selfish and would ultimately disappoint their families.
One woman named Manar shared that she always dreamed of learning to sew, but she was prohibited by her mother (and later her husband) to enroll in classes. Upon learning about the sewing opportunity, she experienced “the most intense happiness of her life,” she remembers, smiling from ear to ear as she retells the story. She secretly registered in the classes without telling her family.
The oldest woman in the sewing training program named Rabha also experienced doubt from other community members outside her own family. “Do you still have a mind to learn?” they’d challenge her.
The biggest mental battle happened to be the women’s own self-doubt. “How can we learn to operate a machine if we don’t even know how to hold pencils?” they questioned. “So what if I’m uneducated”, a woman named Fatima now explains, “I’ve taken the first steps in pursuing an educated life.”
In 2019, U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Audrey Huetteman and her Moroccan counterpart launched a new sewing cooperative in a village near Azrou. They secured a grant from the Peace Corps that equipped the center with sewing machines and all essential supplies. After creating the space, they found a teacher, formed a schedule, and mobilized 40 women to dedicate 10 hours a week to intense sewing classes and 3 hours a week to educational sessions focused on soft skills, such as processing their emotions, exploring personalities, strengthening relationships, and managing anger.
The women hooted with joy after finishing each article of clothing – the explosive ceremonial chants happened at least 200 times! Sometimes they’d even dance on the table to celebrate! They stayed up to early hours of the morning talking about sewing, brainstorming new clothing designs, and researching patterns. Their final products were even featured in a big fashion show for the village.
Sewing has captivated the women themselves, too. “We can’t sleep anymore,” they laugh, “our minds are too busy thinking about what we’ll sew next.” One woman dreams of opening a sewing shop in the village to sell her own clothes, fabric, and other supplies. She wants to be able to create her own income, become self-dependent and live a “relaxed” life. “I want the people who taught me to sew to be proud of me,” she smiles as she thinks about the future.
With the training completed, a group of six women stepped forward to lead the formation of a sewing cooperative so that they can begin seriously selling their products. By the end of 2019, they even secured a dedicated building to house the cooperative. They dream of creating a factory in their Middle Atlas Mountain valley so that everyone (the farmers, the children playing on the street, the high schoolers and the city-dwellers) will be decked-out in their designs. “And that’s just the beginning,” they affirm.
After clocking over 250 hours of classes, crafting hundreds of articles of clothing,these women have begun radiating new positive energies.
They’ve transformed the sewing training center from a space of chaotic sounds and anxiety to a space that cultivates hope, goal-setting and celebrations that call for spontaneously using tea trays as instruments.
The women have created an inspiring sisterhood that focuses on embracing their limitless potentials. Despite decades of hard work in their homes, they admit that they’ve rarely experienced outward appreciation. Finally, through the sewing classes, they’ve mustered up their own confidence and realized that they can create their own pride while others cheer them on.
The 40 women started a project without realizing exactly what it entailed. Without realizing that it would fuel their confidence and build a culture of safety, creativity, and celebration. These women return to their homes, illuminating their communities with newfound hopes and dreams: an unexpected result from once scary alien sewing machines.