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About 10 years ago Agatha* started her own sewing business through the Jubilee Community Church, where her aim was to help marginalised women like herself to make a living.

Agatha, a refugee from The Democratic Republic of Congo, moved to South Africa more than 20 years ago in the hope of a better living.

She called the business Umoja (meaning unity in Swahili), a sewing and embroidery enterprise that primarily helps refugee women to have a meaningful job in their lives.

Before she approached the church, Agatha didn’t have any income of her own and depended on her husband’s income. Since sewing is her passion, she felt that she could start something where many displaced women like herself could be empowered through sewing and embroidery work.

Agatha pitched her business plan through the Jubilee Community Church’s Business Empowering and Skills Training initiative (BEST). The church recognized the need to have assistance programs to help small businesses going. The BEST initiative is thus aimed at training people how to think and develop their business ideas as well as gain business skills.

She began by teaching a small group of about 10 women how to sew and embroider patterns onto cushions and dresses.

After reviewing her business plan, someone outside of the church then helped her in sourcing numerous contractors who called in with large orders. Soon more hands were needed and more women were recruited to work for the Umoja sewing business.

The Umoja sewing business flourished. Two years ago Umoja was big enough to start operating in its own facilities after having used the Church’s facilities. The business now operates in Brooklyn, Cape Town and employs over 40 women.

“The church has the potential to play a significant role for change in South Africa,” said Pastor David Adams of the Jubilee Community Church.

*Name withheld at request of the church

by Mapaseka Setlhodi