One woman’s quest to rescue Kilifi women from harsh chains of poverty

Esther Yaa sewing clothes at her Mzizimani tailoring shop, a project she opened back in 2016. [Standard]

Growing up in Malanga, Ganze constituency, Mrs Esther Yaa had big dreams. She wanted a good, comfortable life. 

Unfortunately, she never went to school since her parents were immersed in their culture and never valued education. 

Mrs Yaa says her siblings too – four girls and one boy - never went to school. 

At the age of 17, she got married.

‘’While growing up, I really admired school. I could see my neighbours going to school and I always asked my mother why I was not going to school like them. I was married in 2003 when I was 17 years old,’’ she said. 

Despite having not stepped into any class, Mrs Yaa developed a deep interest in sewing. 

When she came of age, she approached one of her neighbours, who had a sewing machine to teach her how to sew clothes. 

One day, she says, a man came to the tailoring shop and fell in love with her.

The man, Mr Emmanuel Charo wanted her to be his wife. 

Mr Charo promised to sponsor her training in tailoring, but on the condition, that she agrees to marry him.

She couldn’t resist his offer and later, the couple relocated to Jilore village.

Between 2004 and 2006, Mrs Yaa studied tailoring, dressmaking and embroidery at The Star of Hope trade school in Mikindani, Mombasa.

She graduated with a Grade 3 certificate and later, worked as a casual labourer at Blue Bird Garments, Kingorani EPZ, Changamwe.

In 2012, she opened a tailoring shop in her village with one sewing machine.

Soon, young mothers, who were victims of gender-based violence, started flocking to her shop to learn how to sew.

The mothers wanted to be self-reliant and feed themselves. 

“When I opened my tailoring shop, I started receiving young mothers, who appreciated my work and always wanted to learn,” Mrs Yaa says.

She bought three more second-hand sewing machines to train the mothers, who spread the word to their friends. 

“In 2016, I looked for a bigger space and founded Mzizimani tailoring services. I bought five more sewing machines to cater for the demand,” she said. 

What started as a small business turned into a source of hope for young mothers in Jilore village.

However, with the growing demand, Mrs Yaa faced another challenge. She lacked basic education, meaning she couldn’t read or write. 

“I was talented in tailoring and dressmaking, but I felt challenged when the student numbers increased because I didn’t know how to read and write. I couldn’t give them notes, which was a challenge. I decided to enrol in school,” she says. 

Going back to school for Mrs Yaa was a tough choice since balancing motherhood and work was hectic. 

“It was a tough call. Luckily, the headteacher allowed me to start in Class Five. I was determined to learn. Among the Mijikenda community, a married woman’s place is in the kitchen, but I overcame this cultural belief,” she said.  

In 2021, Mrs Yaa sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and scored 149 marks.

Though she desires to join and proceed to secondary school, but can’t afford it, she notes that acquiring the KCPE certificate has sharpened her skills and made her a better teacher.    

“My firstborn son will be joining Form Two.  I have two other children joining class 7 and Grade1. I would rather give priority to my children to benefit from education. For my case, I will focus on expanding my tailoring project,” she noted.

Her project, Mzizimani tailoring services, has come to the rescue of young mothers and made them self-reliant.

“Since I started in 2016, I have taught over 51 women in tailoring and dressmaking and they have undertaken their exams at Jilore Polytechnic, which we have a partnership with. My students go for attachment there and receive certificates,” she added.

Ms Kasichana Kazungu, 19, is a single mother of one, and a beneficiary of the Mzizimani tailoring services. 

She dropped out of school in Class Seven, but through the tailoring programme, she is economically empowered. 

“Looking back, I am happy I enrolled for the programme. I was desperate after my marriage failed. I had given up, but I am now in a better place. I can sew clothes, which I sell to my friends and relatives. I can comfortably take care of my daughter,” she said. 

Another beneficiary of the programme is Kadzo Katana, 22, who dropped out of school after she fell pregnant. 

“My parents chased me from home. I went to live with my aunty, who encouraged me to join the programme. It was the best decision in my life. The skills I was impacted with are now helping me,” she said.

Ms Kadzo has opened a tailor shop and has been receiving orders from clients, who pay well.  

Mrs Yaa says her dream is to expand her project and advance the dreams of women.

“I want to lead a path for sustainable social and economic empowerment; be a voice to victims of gender-based violence and give hope to the young women in the society,” she concludes.