Medrine and the Sewing School
Stitching the Fabric of our Foundation
October 13, 2020
Part 1 in a series of 3. Read Part 2 here.
Medrine Muhindo had a dream for when she finished her education in sewing and design: she would teach the young people in her community the craft, so they might find work mending, making, or even designing dresses. Alternatives in Kasese were scarce. Many children were forced to drop out of school by age 12 because of the mandatory school fees that their parents couldn’t afford. And without school, there were no jobs. At least not legal, safe jobs.
In a region of Uganda where most people are surviving on less than a dollar per day, the sex slave industry is booming and child brides are negotiated regularly. Hard manual labor like carrying illegal firewood is a common option for young girls and boys. But Medrine had skills, and she could share them.
Unfortunately, when she scraped together what little she had to open a sew school, no one could afford to pay the modest fees she required.“I intended to charge 30,000 shillings (about $10) but students could not afford it,” she told me as we sat in the dim room where 16 sewing machines are now arranged in a neat U.
Luckily, Laurie DeJong, CEO of LDJ Productions and founder of Paper Fig Foundation, had already begun work in that region of Uganda. LDJ Productions is the event production agency of record for New York Fashion Week, among other major events. Paper Fig Foundation had started work on a few fashion weeks in East Africa, including Kigali Fashion Week and Kampala Fashion Week. So when Laurie stumbled upon Medrine’s and her aspirations, it was a fortuitous meeting.
“We were driving down Kidodo Village,” recalled DeJong, “and there was a woman operating a sewing school out of a shack. There were a couple of mannequins outside and I saw she was making patterns out of paper bags, and there was a series she had made from newspapers, and she had strung them across the shack.
And I got out of the car and walked over to her and she just had this gleam in her eye, and I said; “Who are you and what are you doing?” And she said, “I'm Medrine and I want to be a businesswoman.”