Sewing school uniforms in Timor-Leste

        Sisters showing their handiwork

Liz and Gordon Biok recently went to the Carmelite Convent in Fatuhada to meet Sister Santina and Sister Inacia and talk about the sewing project. Four sisters were there and they freely discussed the progress of the first stage of the sewing project.

In the first stage of the project four sisters and two girls from the Maubara orphanage were trained in cutting and sewing skills. Six machines have been purchased – three treadle and three electrical and a meeting room has been set up for sewing. It is hoped that these six women will become the trainers to promote sewing skills in the community and train more women over time. One of the girls from the orphanage did not finish the course as she found it difficult and boring.

The women have learnt how to make school uniforms; shirts, long and short pants, and skirts. We were shown some school uniforms which were well made and sturdy. They would like some more training from a tailor to improve their skills so they can make jackets and dresses.

The sewing project will not only train Timorese women in a valuable vocational skill but will also make school uniforms (and education) more accessible to many Timorese families. One uniform set made by the project will cost US$25, while the current price for a uniform set made by an Indonesian tailor is US$45. Indonesian tailors come to Dili and Baucau before the start of every school year and take orders for uniforms.

The sisters already have an order for 20 uniform sets, 12 shirts and 12 skirts from the boarding school in Bobonaro. The private school in Bobonaro and the high school in Oecussi are also interested in purchasing uniforms from the project.

The next stage of the project involves the purchase of 12 sewing machines and an overlocker from Indonesia and setting up a larger sewing room. The sisters suggested that an Indonesian tailor could be brought to Dili to provide some advanced training. The participants will also need careful training in maintenance of the machines.

The project will empower Timorese women with a valuable skill and reduce the reliance on Indonesian tailors. It seems that most of the tailoring shops for weddings and sophisticated outfits are owned by East Javanese.

It was great to see the progress of this sewing project, which is supported by ATLAS.