Sitting on a tall metal stool, her left foot on the pedal and right hand on the wheel of her sewing machine, 37-year-old Jummai Abba is showing a group of women how to stitch locally sourced fabrics to make throw pillows.
“I learnt how to sew as a young girl. I can make different designs of bags, shoes and other items,” she says.
Abba and her two-year-old child fled Gulak, their village in Adamawa state, northeast Nigeria, following intense fighting between an armed opposition group and government forces. Abba, who was two months pregnant and alone with her child, trekked several days and covering a distance of over 173 km through dangerous bush paths until arriving in Maiduguri town.
Abba is among the nearly two million people displaced by ten years of violence in north-east Nigeria that has killed over 30,000 people and injured more than 100,000. Three quarters of those displaced by the crisis have sheltered with host communities who are among the world’s poorest people.
Providing start-up grants and training
We are responding to the humanitarian needs in north-east Nigeria, while also working to help people regain a livelihood. We provide micro-enterprise training, funded by the European Union, in concert with our distribution of food and other relief supplies to displaced people.
Abba was among over 2,000 displaced people trained and supported to start and scale up their small businesses.
Since she bought a sewing machine with seed funding we provided her, the mother of eight has been very busy meeting the demands of her ever-growing base of customers.
“I made different products and displayed them in front of my house, and people kept coming to buy them and ask for more,” she says.
Teaching women her trade
Now Abba herself is helping new entrepreneurs get their start. Following several training requests, she began enrolling displaced women who were interested in learning how to sew and sell their products.
“Hundreds of women, including those in the host communities, showed interest in my training programme,” she said.
Despite introducing a 3,000 Naira (8 US dollars) registration fee, the number of prospective trainees kept growing. To manage the high number of trainees, Abba teaches two classes a day in the morning and evening. Overall, she has trained more than 200 displaced women in Maiduguri.
“In one month, over 40 displaced women graduate from my training programme,” she says.
Now she can save money for her husband to scale up his small paint business and to send her eldest child to university.
“I don’t want to be idle”
Trainees at Abba’s workshop are displaced women, who often depend on aid from the government, philanthropists, as well as local and international NGOs to manage their current situations.
Though she knew how to use a sewing machine before coming to Maiduguri, 27-year-old Asabe Yakubu, who fled from her village Chibok, signed up for Abba’s workshop to enhance her skills in line with the demands of customers in an urban area.
She plans to start production of handbags and other items once she completes her training.
“I don’t want to be idle, that is why I came here to learn and improve on my sewing skills,” she says.