Their luggage bags contained 20-some sewing machines, plus fabrics, notions and trims. The nine ladies who were from all around the United States shared a passion for sewing, and they were heading to an orphanage in Huánuco, Peru to teach the craft, with a purpose.
One of the women was Diane Murphy of Wilmington. She led a team of four of the instructors who ended up teaching at a nearby church that was interested in supporting the mission trip.
Although many of the Peruvian pupils were already good at sewing by hand, they don’t have ready access to sewing machines and it was that specialized knowledge the instructors planned to give a boost to.
The main mission of the trip, said Murphy, was to help give the girls and women self-worth, a talent and a possible trade and income.
The American who owns the orphanage was all for it, Murphy said, because when they age out of the orphanage they will be eligible for a job.
The term “orphanage” is somewhat misleading. The girls there may have parents, said Murphy. Certified as a residential childcare facility, the girls can come from either abusive or bad situations or their parents just can’t take care of them.
Pam Damour, who initiated the trip, is a national sewing educator and wanted to teach sewing in an area where women need to be empowered. At a sewing expo, Damour met Robin Kruk who is a missionary who teaches sewing. A pastor friend who lives in Lima, Peru told Kruk of a group that really needed the help, according to Damour’s PowerPoint on the trip.
Clients at a battered women shelter also came to the orphanage for sewing lessons. While it’s called a women’s shelter, they actually were all teenagers who had been abused, Murphy said.
At the church, 25 girls and women came for sewing lessons in the morning and 30 others came in the afternoon.
“The girls and ladies all made two different styles of handbags and wallets,” said Murphy.
Having the women learn to operate a domestic sewing machine will help prepare them to work in a factory in the textile industry where they would use commercial machines, said Murphy. Alternately, the women could sew products to earn an income through sales to tourists or others.
The sewing mission is an ongoing project. Domitila, an orphanage board member, has quit her job as a seamstress to teach sewing at the orphanage five days a week, sponsored through Damour’s business.
Then, there’s a group that will build a room at the orphanage specifically as a permanent sewing studio. Moreover, there is a shop in Pennsylvania interested in selling products the women make on their own, and a man in Lima, Peru who sells to the tourist industry may be interested in carrying the items, Murphy added. She has a couple ideas for what the ladies might be able to make and sell for products.
In addition, Murphy wants to talk with textile factory managers in Peru to see exactly what skills they need in employees, and hopefully work out some kind of partnership with them.
The final night in Huánuco, there was a big reception for the instructors.
“They just couldn’t soak up enough. They just loved it. ‘You’re coming back aren’t you? We want you back’,” Murphy related of the response to the sewing mission.
Plans are for many of the same instructors to return next winter.