Toddlers Ester Keji and Emmanuel Kenyi watch while their mothers Jerisa Muro and Hellen Poni talk with tailoring instructor Mustafa Atrima.
MCC Photo by Nina Linton

Toddlers Ester Keji and Emmanuel Kenyi watch while their mothers Jerisa Muro and Hellen Poni talk with tailoring instructor Mustafa Atrima.

JUBA, South Sudan—Carrying her two-year-old daughter Ester on her back, Jerisa Muro walks to a sewing class three kilometres from her home in Juba, the capital city of the newly independent country of South Sudan.

Muro, a mother of four children, ages two to 11, hopes to start a tailoring business and earn enough money so that her children can go to school. She is especially concerned that her two eldest children are not attending school. 

“I didn’t go to school because of the long war,” she says. “My father died of a stroke when I was young. My mother had no means to send us to school. If I acquire good skills here, then I can send my children to school and they will not be illiterate.”   

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has been supporting this project since 2009 when it was started by Florence Ayikoru and the Episcopal Church of Sudan’s Mother’s Union. Each year, 20 women learn sewing, life skills and small business management skills.

“We are changing lives. We are making a difference. Every time I see graduates of our program I ask them if they have customers and they do.”

Graduates of the six-month program can buy their sewing machine at a reduced rate and take out small loans to help them start a tailoring business. 

“I feel so good about what we are doing,” says Ayikoru. “We are changing lives. We are making a difference. Every time I see graduates of our program I ask them if they have customers and they do.”

It is these success stories that motivate Muro to learn skills that will help build a better future for herself and her children.  

Her life is marked with hardships. Her eldest brother was killed during the civil war, 1983-2005. “During the war we spent many years in the bush,” she recalls. “We went to a refugee camp in Uganda but I did not get any training there.”

Six years ago Muro left an abusive relationship. She maintained custody of their baby, who is now seven years old, but lost custody of her two eldest children. These children are being raised by their grandmother, who cannot afford to send them to school.

Now remarried, Muro sees a brighter future for herself and her two youngest children. But she also wants to help her eldest children.

“If I could make two dresses a day, I would be much taller,” she says as she looks forward to the day when all of her children can to go school.

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