By Anne Benavidez, Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program Director
Like caterpillars emerging as beautiful butterflies from their cocoons, eight members of the Golden Hands Livelihood Education Program celebrated being the program’s very first graduates. Each of the women wore dresses they made themselves and enjoyed a time of recognition, glamour and thankfulness.
The graduation ceremony was a very big deal. You see, all of these women came from humble backgrounds. Most live in squatter communities and struggle with extreme poverty, substandard living conditions and a lack of opportunity.
Two years ago, none of them would have envisioned themselves being celebrated. They had little hope that their lives would improve. But today, in a fancy ceremony that involved flowers, photos and the presentation of new sewing machines as graduation gifts, the women were honored for their achievements.
So what caused the transformation to take place?
The short answer is that people cared. Extreme Response Asia staff members saw the needs and became determined to find a way to encourage, inspire and equip these women to strive for better lives. We saw the potential in the women, even though many of the women could not yet see it in themselves.
Our desire to help the women led to the formation of the Golden Hands Sewing group, which evolved into the Golden Hands Livelihood Educational Program a year later. We had to change the name because the program was accomplishing far more than teaching sewing skills.
For one, the women were discovering self-respect and confidence. For another, they were growing trusted new relationships. They also were learning life skills, business skills and spiritual depth. They were becoming well-rounded people, filled with hope and grace.
To get to this point, the women had to commit to attend weekly classes for eight months and finish all their assignments. They had to learn cutting, pattern making, basic sewing, crocheting and some knitting. Eight of 10 enrollees made it all the way through the program.
As a special incentive, ER provided a sewing machine and starter kit for all eight graduates. Going forward, the women will receive continuous training and coaching. Most of them are planning to start businesses, including six who want to pool their capital, work as a team and share profits.
During the last year, the women have built a lot of self-confidence, created a community among themselves and become closer than ever. They acquired skills that they say will not be taken away from them, that they will bring with them wherever they go. Even if they are forced to leave the places where they now live, they will bring skills that will provide livelihood wherever they relocate. They now have a weapon to fight poverty.