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Seamstress at work

Kelera Serelini
Wednesday, February 09, 2011

WHEN seamstress Claudia Jayne first arrived at Nagado Village as a Peace Corps volunteer, her first assumption was that Fijian village women knew how to sew.

This was mainly because of what she had learnt that Fiji had been part of a colonial era and the women had been introduced to the craft by the wives of the early missionaries dating back to the 1830s.

That thought brought a level of eagerness in her and she wanted be involved in the village community and share her love of sewing with other women in the village.

Most of all, Claudia wanted to learn from what the women in the village had supposedly learnt or been taught over the years.

So she came up with the idea of a sewing workshop and it was not a bad idea, as the women of Nagado found out.

Claudia has been sewing since she was five years old.

She taught herself to sew and in the process learnt everything about sewing machines.

Claudia has a business of her own which specialises in beddings.

It is a business she thought any woman who knew how to sew could get into but things were not as they seemed.

At the workshop in Nagado, she found out that the knowledge of sewing had been lost and she concluded that empowering the village women was going to be the first step she needed to take in order to help them.

Having a successful business in the United States made Claudia more determined to get the women to start sewing again.

"I was surprised to hear how little many of them knew about sewing," she said after the first day of the workshop.

"I thought when I came here, that everyone would know how to sew. I figured that everyone would know how to sew.

"It is very easy for me to teach sewing so we began with the basics of hand sewing and moved to machine sewing and maintenance, working with paper patterns and pattern making from their old clothes."

Claudia not only managed to empower the women to sew but got hold of a number of rusted Singer sewing machines and repaired them.

"The women had thrown them away because they thought they were broken.

"To them they were broken but we managed to fix 15 sewing machines in two days.

"Twenty women came to the workshop and said they had the Chinese-made treadle sewing machines and were ashamed of bringing their old and rusty sewing machines.

"I told them bring them, I love old machines, especially the Singer sewing machines and before I knew it, I fixed 15 of them and two of them were more than 150 years old.

"We got them going and when I say we, I mean we prayed before and after fixing the machines. We knew that God was helping us because I couldn't do it by myself.

"In the end, all the twenty women were sewing in the village hall. It was incredible and we had tears in our eyes," Claudia said of the changes that came to the tiny village in Ba.

"The turaga ni koro's wife said to me that 20 years ago, they had put the sewing machines away thinking they were broken.

"They did not know that 20 years later, an American woman would come along and fix them and now the whole village is sewing and we can actually sew our own school uniforms.

"Now the women don't have to pay someone else to make the uniforms for them. They can sew them themselves and make money.

"For me it was a satisfying feeling, seeing the women sew again and make a living."

Claudia has never been more satisfied than seeing the women busy sewing every day. Claudia, as a Peace Corps volunteer, hoped to empower Fijian women to be independent and use their skills to earn a living and carry on as how the wives of the early missionaries had wanted of them more than 100 years ago.

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