Today our vision screening team of 4 became tailors when an observation of mine on my first day here became a frustration, then an idea, and then a solution, which came to fruition today. One of the first things I noticed about the children whose eyes we were screening, after getting past how adorable they are, was the tattered shape of their uniforms. It was a girl who was holding up the side of her skirt where it had become detached from the bodice and a boy whose seat of his shorts had more underwear exposed than actual shorts and several boys who only had one button on their uniform shirts, leaving most of their chest exposed that I couldn’t stop thinking about once we left the school. With a little bit of effort and a minimal investment in supplies, the solution seemed simple and if in sewing on a few buttons, closing some seams and patching some holes could be a way to restore some dignity to the kids who were wearing uniforms that were long past their prime, then it seemed we should do what we could. I brought up the idea up to Makafui and he was totally on board with it. We had finished the vision screenings yesterday so still had time to bring this idea into a reality. Supplies were purchased, the idea was presented to the headmaster, and our roles from vision screeners to tailors (and I use that word generously) began today.
We had asked the headmaster to tell the children who had uniforms that needed repairs, to bring an extra set of clothes. I’m not sure what we had expected, but were somewhat surprised when we were met by the usual large groups of kids, almost all of them with a 2nd set of clothes in their hands. It was great seeing their enthusiasm but I had to wonder if we had taken on a job far bigger than what we had anticipated.
We had been at another school for the past 4 days doing vision screenings so the children were all very exited to see us, greeting us with smiles and high fives and shouts of “Yayvu, yayvu!” The teachers had the kids line up, the little ones first and we started making assessments. Very few of the 5 and 6 year olds had uniforms that needed any repairs, then we moved onto the older kids (ages 7 to 10 or 12), and that’s when I went into full operation tailoring triage. I’d give each kid a once over with a quick turn around and raising of their arms, then with shouts of “buttons, side seam, situation in the seat” and so on, shirts and dresses were removed and placed into one large heap next to our makeshift work table. There were a few girls (probably no older than 7) who didn’t have other clothes to put on so simply hung around in their underwear. We put a stat on those orders, as running around in only their panties didn’t seem appropriate, although we were the only ones who seemed to care. No one else batted an eye.
Besides being tattered, it also looked as if many of the uniforms, especially the boys shirts, had not been washed, in a very long time. This was not a job for the faint of heart. I was reaching into arm holes and crotches to reattach seams while trying not to think about the actuality of what my needle holding fingers were actually coming into contact with. Thankfully, I had a small container of wipes that offered a bit of relief between jobs, which we made our way through in the first hour. The kids waited patiently, right outside of our open door, never once stepping over the threshold, but spending a lot of time peeking their heads in with giggles and smiles. I’m sure the teachers had told them not to come in as we were busy working and obediently, they didn’t The state of the uniforms were even worse close up as we closed seams, reattached sleeves, sewed on buttons and patched large holes.
We didn’t realize it until we got there that the students and the teachers had begun their 2 or 3 week break from school just the day before, so this was their first day of break. This gave our job even more weight to think that all of the kids had come into school when they didn’t have to, simply to get their uniforms repaired. I felt sorry for the kids that stood in our triage line, clutching onto their extra set of clothes, only to find out that their uniforms needed no repairs. The teachers, who were getting nothing personally out of this, showed only gratitude, rather than annoyance, and thanked us multiple times while assuring us of the importance of our task. It showed the genuine care and affection they have for these kids, which doesn’t always seem obvious then you see the kids getting “caned” by a stick for misbehaving. One teacher told us that the mothers of the students are told to keep their children’s uniforms mended and in repair, but they rarely do. I’m sure repairs to their children’s uniforms are low on their long list of priorities, including survival. I was, however, surprised by the condition of the 2nd set of clothing that the kids had brought – all of them looking clean and very well cared for.
The two tattered uniforms that inspired me to even suggest doing this, happened to fall into my sewing pile. The girl with the skirt that was falling off the bodice and the boy who barely had a seat left in his shorts, hopefully will have a bit more dignity when they put their uniforms after their break and head back to school. We were able to fix all but 2 uniforms because we ran out of time, all of us just hating to leave the 2 untouched. We asked about taking them home then returning them to the school, but the break complicated that idea and the teacher said no, she’d simply hand those uniforms back to the kids. That broke my heart. Hopefully, they were the 2 kids that didn’t care one bit, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. We repaired 50 some uniforms, leaving them better than when they were brought to us.
I can’t say I’m ready to add tailoring to my list of job skills and am not overly proud of the patch work I did, but it was a quantity vs. quality situation so corners were definitely cut. I am, however, very proud of what we accomplished for the kids today. I’m also proud that what started as an observation that really bothered me, is now a going to be a program that will be implemented with the CCS Ghana program for volunteers as time allows. THAT, along with the smiles on the faces when their repaired uniforms were returned to them, made every needle poke into dirty and smelly fabric, totally worth it.