It started with a visit in November 2016 to Eldorado, an area of high density, makeshift housing with a history of poverty, substance abuse and violence, on the edge of São Paulo in Brazil. I was there to help out an old college friend who was running a creative textile project for at risk children and their mothers at the ACER Community Centre – CARF UK is its sister organisation in the UK. By then, I’d retired from teaching German at the University of Limerick, and had been teaching textiles in Limerick, London and Germany for a few years. And I thought that practical textile workshops might be popular with the women as a means of generating income, improving self esteem and becoming more independent.
When I returned to my home in Limerick, I offered to help set up workshops on a more permanent basis, a proposal that was accepted by ACER, who agreed to provide a venue and financial administration. I’d met a talented local freelance textile teacher, Carol Câncio, who agreed to run the workshops. Meanwhile I raised enough funding to cover the initial expenses and persuaded the Coats Foundation Trust to provide funding – around €2000 (£1,700) – to keep the workshops running for a further six months.
About 20 women came to the first workshops in March 2017, some with good sewing skills, most with minimal experience. After a few weeks of classes in embroidery and sewing machine skills, they developed a saleable product – colourful cushion covers made from ‘chita’, an iconic and inexpensive Brazilian textile featuring large flower motifs, which the women embroider over, clearly enjoying experimenting with brightly coloured, highly textured stitches.
In April 2018 I returned to Eldorado and found the textile project thriving. The numbers had grown from 20 to over 30 participants, working in a bigger space. It was a great experience to work together with the women, get to know them better, and see their enthusiasm. I discovered that to set up a cooperative in Brazil is a highly problematic process, and began also to think that earning money, while important for improving the women's confidence and self-esteem, wasn't the only benefit of the project – more importantly, it gives them a safe and supportive space (which some of them badly need), and allows them to be creative, something that the Brazilian school system does not encourage. And this, I believe, has a knock-on effect on their children.
What they say:
I’m very happy. I thought that the course would be very difficult and I wouldn’t be able to learn it, but I am succeeding and I’m going to carry on to the end! I want to learn more.
I find embroidery very difficult, all the same, this project made me see things a different way. We can make beautiful, rewarding things with embroidery. In spite of the difficulties, I love taking part in this marvellous project and I am grateful that this project is being provided in our community.
I came across this project at a difficult moment of my life. The first time I was there, I thought that I wouldn’t continue. But I got involved in such a way that I look forward to arriving on Tuesday to take part. Embroidery is so good that I forget to eat in my enthusiasm to finish my piece. I’m also very happy to have finished my bag and I’m going everywhere with it. It was also during the project that I learnt to use a sewing machine for the first time.
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