When we first met Judith Nyowu, in May 2022, she was nearing the end of her 12-month vocational training in tailoring with our partner, Street Girls Aid. At the start of August 2023 Africa Programme Manager, Ash Phillips, and Individual Giving Officer, Vicky Fernandes, returned to Ghana to find out how her life has changed since she graduated.
An hour’s drive northeast of Accra lies the busy marketplace of Afienya-Mataheko. Ash and I have come to meet 23-year-old Judith, a former tailoring trainee with our partner Street Girls Aid. Now participating in our Transition to Work project, she has opened her own shop and has agreed to show us around.
As we weave our way through the market stalls we round a corner and see Judith’s tailoring shop up ahead. It is adorned with an array of brightly-coloured children’s clothes, women’s skirts and blouses, lengths of fabric, beaded bags and key chains. On one side is an eye-catching shop sign advertising a variety of clothing designs and accessories. Judith and her baby, named Truth, come out to greet us. Judith explains that her sign – which reads “QuityCut” – translates as ‘something that is nice’. She says: “If you come to QuityCut you will have the best quality”.
Judith tells us how her tailoring and business training has changed her life. Unable to complete school due to financial difficulties, and without any qualifications, Judith migrated to Accra in search of employment. She found piece work selling ‘kenkey’ or sour dough dumplings on the streets but was only earning GHC7 per day – approximately 49 pence. She would use the money to buy clothes for herself and send the rest home to help her 5 brothers and 2 sisters.
In 2021, a friend put Judith in touch with the Outreach Team at Street Girls Aid, an NGO that works with street connected girls and young mothers to promote and create opportunities that empower them to become contributing members of society. They told Judith about our vocational training project in tailoring. Keen to improve her employment opportunities, Judith joined the project in August that year and said, “it will help me better my future aspirations”.
She began attending classes at Street Girls Aid’s training centre in Accra, and along with 19 other trainees, was provided with accommodation, meals and childcare, which meant she was able to look after her young children at the same time as learning. Having never done any sewing before, Judith initially found the training quite challenging. She said, “At first it was difficult to learn. But, if you are determined and if you just keep putting your mind to it, then you can learn”.
During the next twelve months, Judith completed a work placement where she enjoyed learning how to do pattern work, and her business skills training helped her with setting goals, money management and customer communication skills. Reflecting on her experience, Judith said, “I enjoyed being able to do my own work and it is nice to stay with the other girls, I have 5 brothers, so I don’t normally get to spend time with other girls.”
In May 2023 Judith graduated with a nationally recognized NVTI Proficiency 1 certificate in tailoring. She started searching for a suitable location to open her own business. When she found an available shop in Afienya, it had everything she was looking for; with no other tailoring businesses nearby there would be no immediate competition; the market has security staff so she could leave her stock locked away on site, and being within walking distance of her home and her daughter’s school it would enable her to juggle work and family responsibilities.
Street Girls Aid covered the required one year up-front rental payment on the shop. With no renovations required, when she moved in Judith was able to to start trading straight away. She has been in her shop for just over a month now, opening Monday to Saturday from 8am to 5pm selling new garments and undertaking alterations.
We ask Judith to explain how her garments are costed out and she explains that some of her customers provide their own fabric, otherwise she takes the bus to buy materials in Accra. After factoring in material costs, she can sell a ladies dress at GHC100 (£6.95) and make a GHC75 profit. We were pleased to hear her earnings are around GHC200 per week, which compared to her sales of kenkey at GHC7 per day, is a considerable increase. With the money she is making Judith is looking to buy her own shop, and in three years’ time she hopes to take on her own apprentices. By then, Judith’s daughter will be in school, and Judith hopes that in the future, she will also learn to sew. Perhaps some day Truth will start her own tailoring enterprise too.
For now, Judith is happy to be independent. When we met Judith last year she said, “in five years time I want to be a well-established sewing professional, in the process of expanding my sewing craft to include beading clothes, accessories, bags and footwear”. As we take our leave and let Judith get on with her day, it is evident that she is well on her way to achieving her dreams. We look forward to following Judith’s progress in the future.
By Vicky Fernandes
Individual Giving Officer
Notes about the editor:
Vicky has been in post with Tools for Self Reliance since November 2021. On her first visit to Africa she was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet some trainees and see first-hand how projects are helping to change lives and build financial resilience.
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