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This Young Woman Is Fighting Poverty in Tanzania by Teaching Women to Sew

Boke is from a remote part of Tanzania that is beautiful but impoverished. By the time Boke was nine, both of her parents had died and she and her sister were sent to live with their grandmother. The grandmother meant well, but struggled to care for the girls, leaving Boke to look after her sister and the home. That took a toll on her education, and even though Boke is a bright girl, she never graduated from primary school.

Now 20 years old, Boke lives at City of Hope, an incredible children’s home and school for underprivileged children in Tanzania. At City of Hope, Boke has found stability and even become fluent in English, but she was still too far behind academically to graduate from high school like most of the students at City of Hope aim to do. Instead, Boke is learning a specialized skill that she hopes will guarantee her a stable future: She’s learning to sew.

PHOTO: Courtesy City of Hope

City of Hope was founded by John Chacha and Regina Horst, an improbable husband-wife team. He grew up on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, she was a Canadian-American Mennonite. They met at Eastern Mennonite University where, thanks to a chance connection through a friend, he’d been given a full scholarship. In 2007, they opened City of Hope in Ntagacha, a region of western Tanzania that was then rife with violence. Today the campus is home to more than 100 orphans, plus a clinic, a primary school that enrolls 450 students, and a new secondary school that enrolls another 50. John Chacha died in an automobile accident in 2015 while traveling to enroll a student in secondary school, but City of Hope has continued to grow and thrive with Regina at the helm.

PHOTO: Courtesy City of Hope

And now Tenzi Chacha, John and Regina’s daughter, is rounding out the curriculum at City of Hope by adding a new program she calls SEW, for Sewing Empowers Women. Tenzi has been interested in sewing and fashion since middle school, and realized that sewing could be a useful skill for women in Tanzania. Many people there have their clothing made-to-order by local tailors, so sewing skills are in high demand. And while the school at City of Hope tries to propel most of its students into secondary school, for some students, like Boke, vocational training is the best path to a steady income and stable future. “I want them to learn a trade so they’ll be empowered—so they’ll have a good job and a good future for themselves,” Tenzi says.

PHOTO: Courtesy City of Hope

Tenzi and Regina Chacha, both wearing clothing sewn by students at City of Hope.

Tenzi started giving sewing lessons last year, teaching the class using old-fashioned treadle machines because City of Hope wasn’t on the electrical grid. She also started designing clothing for the women to make, and plans to start a business selling her designs to women around Africa and in the U.S. so she can pay the women a fair wage and funnel the profits back into job training for the women of Tanzania. Tenzi’s designs marry traditional African textiles with modern silhouettes and are—of course—made completely by hand.

City of Hope places a special emphasis on empowering the women and girls of Tanzania, who are especially vulnerable to cultural practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Its newest initiative, the Stacey Sauerberg Women’s Leadership Initiative (founded by the family of the late Stacey Sauerberg, the wife of outgoing Condé Nast president and CEO Bob Sauerberg) will encourage female leadership by promoting education for women and raising awareness about the social issues holding them back.

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