Sewing Seeds for Health: How a Tailor Training Program is Helping Malawian Women

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2019 Christianson Grantee Cheyenne Polk volunteers with Development Initiative Network (DIN Malawi), an organization which partners with female empowerment groups, small business programs, youth clubs, and HIV support groups to improve their lives.

On January 10, 2020 DIN Malawi had an amazing event to open our tailoring and gardening projects, which will provide economic and health benefits to communities affected by HIV in the town of Chikwawa.

Announcing the community development projects in Chikwawa, Malawi.
Announcing the community development projects in Chikwawa, Malawi.
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

About 100 of the HIV support group members came to listen to speakers from the Chikwawa government, DIN Malawi staff, and myself speak about the projects. Each of these stakeholders discussed the sustainable impact these projects will have on the community. I was lucky to have some of my expatriate friends who live in Blantyre (a city in southern Malawi) present; we danced together to celebrate the initiation of the projects.

Dancing to celebrate the gardening and tailor projects. Video courtesy of Cheyenne Polk.

Before starting the tailor-training project, we surveyed the participants to measure their current level of income and nutrition status. It was shocking to hear how little each person earns in the Chikwawa district: 1,346 kwacha per day (about $1.80 USD)—lower than the minimum wage of Malawi.

Such low income negatively impacts their nutrition because they’re not able to purchase foods from all food groups. The six food groups in Malawi include: fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, oils, and meat. Dairy is not listed as it is in the United States because it’s not widely available in rural Malawi.

The tailor training project will provide rural women with new skills and an opportunity for sustainable income.
The tailor training project will provide rural women with new skills and an opportunity for sustainable income.
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

Women reported that they only consume about four of the six food groups daily and only supplement these groups when they had the additional income or when conditions were favorable. For example, many women don’t consume fruit until mango season (September to January) because mangoes are very plentiful and cheap. Other fruits are much more expensive.

Participants reported having around 20,000 kwacha ($27.12) of income per month before expenses, often noting that this income is unstable because it comes from random jobs. All 12 participants were eager to start the tailor training project so they could learn new skills and find reliable work with a steady source of income.

Members of HIV support groups will greatly benefit from the tailor project.
Members of HIV support groups will greatly benefit from the tailor project.
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

I’m ecstatic to be managing this endeavor with DIN Malawi and feel grateful to be in the company of so many amazing people while developing fun, grassroots projects.

Cheyenne Polk

Cheyenne Polk volunteered in Malawi with the help of a Christianson Grant, from the InterExchange Foundation.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation