ZET Blog: The Power of Ingenuity

Rafiki Girls Centre: Patricia’s Story

It is very difficult to estimate the size of the informal sector in African economies as the topic easily becomes very political, but a new labour force survey suggests that the sector in Zimbabwe is huge, and growing very rapidly as retrenchments mount and formal employment slides. According to a report by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Office (Zimstat), 94.5% of the 6.3m people defined as employed in Zimbabwe are working in the informal sector. The largest number (4.16m) is made up of smallholder farmers in communal agriculture, followed by 615,000 in trade and commerce. Some 210,000 are said to have informal jobs in manufacturing, 70,000 in mining, 118,000 in education and 92,000 in transport (The Economist, 23 June 2015). To this end, Rafiki’s economic empowerment programs have made it possible for graduates to establish themselves in the informal sector and contribute meaningfully to the economy.

The story of Patricia Kabike is a beautiful and inspiring one. Patricia is a young woman who graduated from Rafiki in November 2010 with a certificate in Interior Designing. In the first three months of training, Patricia took all the twelve compulsory Rafiki Program Modules which included Basic Cookery, Basic Sewing, Machine Knitting, Cake Making and Flower Arrangement. In her own words, Patricia “took every module very seriously” and ensured that she perfected every skill, and to this day she is using all these skills to earn a living.

Soon after graduating, Patricia immediately started using her newly acquired skills to earn a living, including catering and decorating for parties and events. She also competed in a cooking competition, and used her prize money to purchase a sewing machine. She continued to use her skills and initiative to move from strength to strength, working from home with her sewing machine to make a living.

Patricia was one of the pioneers at the establishment of the Rafiki Sewing Centre in 2013, where she worked for four years until June 2017. The Sewing Centre was established as a way of fundraising for the sustainability of the Rafiki Project, but due to economic challenges the Centre was temporarily closed in June 2017. During her stint at the Sewing Centre, Patricia gained a lot of experience in designing and sewing different items which included kitchen sets (placemats, aprons), bags, clothing, curtains and bedding (duvet sets, comforter sets, pillow cases, runners and bedding hollow fibres). The closure of the Rafiki Sewing Centre did not pose a big challenge to Patricia, as she quickly returned to her survival skills – that of self-employment and working from home.

She continues working from home to this day, has managed to build a good clientele base and looks forward to growing bigger. All of her clients praise her creativity and ingenuity, both in her sewing designs and in her work ethic. She is well-known for taking risks and creating intricate designs just from one brief description or picture as inspiration. One of her clients was so pleased with her work that she presented her with a brand new industrial sewing machine to expand her work.

Patricia’s parents live in a rural area and every month she sends them money for food and their general upkeep. She was quick to mention that in the past, her family members never used to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and Christmas, but because of the skills she acquired from Rafiki she was able to encourage them to make such occasions special. She has been doing this by making cakes and preparing special food to celebrate such events in the company of her family and friends. People from her village now know about her skills and every time she visits home they come and place their orders for garments, curtains, bedding and other interior design products.

However, Patricia resides in a one room property which doubles as a workspace, which can make working on larger orders or multiple clients challenging. Renting an office is not an option for her as many landlords do not accommodate the needs of informal sector start-ups and would not permit clients to visit. The current economic situation in Zimbabwe has also impacted on her business negatively, in that for example fabric suppliers do not accept bank/money transfer payment methods but cash only, yet most of her clients pay using bank transfers. With the current cash shortages prevailing in the country it makes it difficult for her to re-stock in terms of fabric and other necessary supplies. Lastly, access to finance is a big challenge. Patricia believes that if she were to obtain capital or a cheap loan to finance her capital expenditure she would grow her business, register as a formal company, and even employ a few of Rafiki former girls who were trained in cutting and designing and interior designing to work with her.

Patricia’s story shows how Rafiki Girls Centre is making impact and transforming girls as well as the community where the girls come from. It shows how, when given opportunities and support, young women can use their skills and enterprise to build a successful life for themselves and those around them. Patricia and Rafiki Girls Centre would like to thank all our donors who have made a difference and hope that many more will assist financially so that more girls can receive hope just like Patricia has.

Written by Hildah Mahachi, Director at Rafiki Girls Centre
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan, Operations Manager at Zimbabwe Educational Trust

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