Wednesday December 12th
Mabinti in Swahili means ‘girls’. It is a fitting name for a place that gives girls and women who have lived through the trauma of having a fistula a chance of a new life. Mabinti is a centre where each year ten girls recovering from fistula surgery at CCBRT (Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania) are given the opportunity to study sewing, beading, crochet, screen-printing and, very importantly, business skills. The course lasts for twelve months and the aim is that the skills learned will equip the women to start up their own small businesses making and selling quality textiles to tourists. The success rate is high, indeed, since Mabinti opened in 2007, many graduates have built thriving small businesses and after, for some, many years of misery and shame, now live happily and independently .
As Katia, the founder and director of the centre, gives Alison and I a guided tour I warm to the place immediately. The facilities are basic but well designed and laid out. There is no hostel here, the women are found accommodation in local family homes around the centre and have to attend regularly each day, and on time. This may seem a reasonable expectation but as Katia tells us often the women come from a way of life in the villages where there is no real concept of keeping to a schedule and the discipline of doing so is something they have to learn.
This from the Mabinti brochure:
The Mabinti women are from very poor families and have rarely had access to education. At Mabinti they learn a range of important skills such as entrepreneurship and English as well as life skills including: decision making, communication, family planning and HIV?AIDS prevention.
At Mabinti the women are taught how to dye the cloth and screen print their own original designs to create textiles that they then use to sew into bags, make-up cases, pencil cases, cushion covers, table runners and various other things that have become very popular with tourists over the years. Katia, a former primary school teacher, is clearly a very astute business woman and has researched the market intensively. She also has high expectations of the quality of the goods that bear the Mabinti logo and is fastidious in ensuring that everything from the least expensive key fob to the most expensive bag comes up to the required standard. This being said Katia also comes across as one of the most enthusiastic people I have met for a long time. Her obvious passion for what she does and her complete satisfaction in her job shines through her easy smile and friendly engaging manner. She makes us feel very welcome and is obviously, and quite rightly, proud of her centre.
In the classroom students sit at sewing machines, however the lesson is not sewing this morning, it is business skills. The teacher expounds in Swahili and the women seem attentive and happy. It is great to see these women looking so healthy and cheerful. They demonstrate their individuality in the vibrantly colourful kangas they are wearing, a far cry from the blue hospital gowns they must have worn, as all the patients do, on the fistula ward. Further on through the low building other students are making cushion covers. Katia inspects the quality of the sewing as she passes, smiling and with a few words of encouragement for the women. Outside two students are working with a teacher learning how to screen print onto square cloth which most likely will later be sewn into more cushion covers. One student is more experienced that the other and waits patiently for her turn to pull the white ink through the screen with the rubber squeegee. I recognise her as the woman who came to CCBRT to teach the patients crochet and Katia told us that she is in fact a graduate of the program who has stayed on to now work at Mabinta helping others. The design is a simple flower petal in white on a silver grey background and the delight on the first woman’s face when she sees the result on her labour is a joy to see.
Mabinti seems to be a great set up and offers a fantastic opportunity for a small number of women, some of whom may have nowhere to go and once they have been treated for their fistula. Often families and husbands have abandoned their women because of the condition and, as outcasts from society, they have no home or way of life to return to after their time at CCBRT. After graduating from the program each woman is given a start-up kit which includes a sewing machine, scissors a supply of material and a calculator. All the graduates maintain links with the centre visiting once a month for a coaching session and home visits are organised to gather information about how their business is progressing.
Of course not all of the women can benefit from the opportunity that Mabinti offers, but it has been proven without doubt that for many of those who do gain a place on the program the rewards are great.