Meet the Faces Behind Seka Handbags
JEANNE | seamstress
Born on an island in Kivu lake, Jeanne began sewing lessons in 2014, fulfilling a life long dream to become a seamstress. Jeanne was not able to attend school as a child, so she has applied herself with intense vigor to sewing school. Arriving at work by 7:30 each day, Jeanne stays hard at work until 8 p.m. many nights, perfecting her craft. Even though Jeanne's life has been filled with many hardships - her parents died many years ago and she is separated from her extended family - Jeanne joyfully leads prayer many mornings before work, and brightens up the sewing shop with her happy smile, singing and positive life outlook. Jeanne also enjoys singing in her local church's choir, and takes care of her nieces and nephews, sending them earnings from her sewing job whenever she can.
COSTAZI | seamstress
Born to a teenage mom, Costazi never knew her father, and her mother's family rejected her due to the shame of her illigitimate birth. Costazi was allowed to attend school until 3rd grade. After this, she began harvesting and selling pieces of sugar cane to other children in order to survive. Costazi married about 8 years ago, and has 2 children, but her husband became physical abusive and one night, he almost killed her. She was operated on by the missionary surgeon in the nearby hospital, and stayed there in recovery for about 6 months. After recovery, Costazi could no longer harvest vegetables and sugar cane as she could not hold a hoe, due to hand injuries from the attack. She left her village to move near her new hospital friends, and was welcomed into the Seka Handbag shop. She has now learned to sew and is making a new life for herself, her two beautiful children, and for another child who is an orphan and had no place to go. Costazi's life demonstrates that sometimes, hard things that happen to us as children can develop in us the compassion needed to be used to bless another person going through something similar.
ELADE | seamstress
Elade's mother died in childbirth with her, leaving her and two siblings to be raised by their Daddy. Two years later, her father remarried a woman with 3 children, so there were then six children to feed and raise in their home. Now grown, 3 of these children are now married, and two are single teachers. She credits her parents with doing a great job providing for them in a difficult circumstance. Elade, being the youngest, was only able to attend school through elementary, because there were no more funds for schooling left. She is so thankful for Seka Handbags, because now she can learn a skill and trade so she will have a hope for the future. She lives with a pastor's family and is so happy for her job and for the fellowship with the ladies that she enjoys at work.
SANDRINE | seamstress
Sandrine is 20 years old, and was born with only one eye. She was raised by her older sister, who is 8 years older. Sandrine was able to attend school until the second year of secondary school. She currently lives with her older sister, Sifa, and helps her to care for her children and enjoys working with her sister at Seka Handbags. Sandrine puts the "fun" in Seka Handbags, always smiling and encouraging everyone in their work. Her bubbly, happy, energetic and youthful personality radiates a joy and enthusiasm within our workplace.
SIFA | designer & seamstress
Sifa is a caring, giving nurturing woman, who starting raising her younger sister from the time she was 10 years old. Somehow, even though caring for a one year old at the age of 10, she managed to stay in school all the way through the third year of high school. However, at that point, she could no longer find funding for school, and had to end her studies. She is a single mom of three children, and has taken in another orphan to live with her as well. She shares her home with her younger sister, Sandrine. Sifa is always caring for others, and has been doing that since she lovingly took over the care of her baby sister, back when she was just ten. We are all so proud of Sifa!
SARAH | instructor & seamstress
After her parents died after the genocide, Sarah went to live with her grandmother with her siblings. It was such a difficult time, with very little food on which to survive. Soon, the grandmother died as well, and she and her siblings went to live in the orphanage in Kibogora. One year after entering the orphanage, it closed, and so Sarah, now aged 16, went out on her own to try to make a living. Thankfully, a woman from England began a sewing school and she sponsored Sarah so that she could be a student. With earnings from work she did on a nearby farm, she rented a sewing machine. Later, she bought a goat, raised it and sold it, making enough money to buy her own machine. Sarah married at age 28, and has 3 children. But, her husband became an alcoholic and beats her regularly. He also beat her oldest child relentlessly, so he now lives with a family in another town to stay safe. Sarah is thankful for the British friend who originally sponsored her in sewing school and who remains a good friend to this day, and for the opportunity to work with Seka Handbags. Her hope is to become independent and to provide a future for her children.
MAMA SAMUEL | seamstress
Recently left by her alcoholic, physical abusive husband of 20 years to raise her children alone, Mama Samuel is expecting her tenth child in the next few months. Until recently, she slept on the dirt floor of her small mud-brick home. With her job at Seka Handbags , she was able to add a double size mattress and blanket to her home. Now she and some of her children can sleep on that mattress. Soon, with money she earns from creating these beautiful purses, we hope she can purchase one more for the other children, and that she will be able to furnish her home more completely and also to fix the leaks in her roof!
JEANNETTE | instructor & seamstress
Jeannette is a 34 year old mother of two precious boys. She came from a very poor family, and her poverty only grew when her mother died when she was 14 years old, and her father followed in death when she was 19. At this point, her only remaining relative was her sister. A pastor and his family sponsored her in a sewing school, and she also worked as house help in his home. At age 23, she married a man who later became an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a big problem, especially for men, in this part of Rwanda. He beat her every day for many years, and sometimes he beat the children as well. One night, he broke a bone in his oldest child, and fled to avoid being arrested. When he left, he took the family mattress, their radio, and other household materials, leaving Jeannette to care for her children with even less household items and less financial support than she had struggled to survive with previously. Now she is supplementing her sewing business by creating beautiful handbags with Seka, and it is helping her to support her children and to begin a new life.
ESPERANCE | seamstress
Esperance was born in May 2002 at Giwa Village Cyimpindu cell, Kilimbi Sector Nyamaseke District, in a very low-income family of 5 members. In the first category of poverty, she was able to attend school through fourth grade, after which she had to discontinue her education because she was not able to provide the school fees. At age 14, she was diagnosed with Psychotic Disorder, and without access to medicine, became increasingly vulnerable due to unpredictable episodes that kept her from finding a job and sometimes caused her to wander from home without notice. At 16 years old, an older man raped her, which resulted in pregnancy. A month after she gave birth, Pacifique Mutuyimana found Esperance and her child living in the streets. Mr. Mutuyimana had met Esperance years ago when she attended an english camp for children at Kibogora Hospital. When he learned of her situation and discovered that she was struggling to provide for herself and her child, Mr. Mutuyimana took it upon himself to secure medical treatment for Esperance and her child, who had developed an illness from malnourishment. He also recommended her as a prospective co-op member. After her treatment, Esperance inquired and was accepted into Seka co-op, where she began learning how to sew, taking lessons from Jeannette and Sarah with a sewing machine and materials purchased locally with Seka Handbags profits. Today she is part of Seka's talented community of women who generate income through making handbags and other products. Her trade allows her to afford safe housing and regular medical treatment, as well as food for herself and her child.