JOS, Nigeria – To walk into Zipporah Moses’ tailoring shop is to enter a swirl of color and activity. Sewing machines hum while Moses and several of her helpers cut and baste the vibrantly patterned fabric used in traditional dress. They measure new customers and serve those who are picking up their orders. All within an 8-by-10 foot space on a busy thoroughfare in Jos, Nigeria.
Five years ago, in 2007, Moses, then 23, faced a bleak future. The Nigerian army had dismissed her from service as a soldier upon learning she was HIV positive. The single woman moved to Jos to stay with a friend.
One day Moses happened upon someone speaking her tribal language, Kagoro, at a market. He was a pastor, Sunday Bakut, with Faith Alive Foundation, a Nigerian organization that operates a hospital and an ever-growing network of medical, social, economic and spiritual outreach services to people with HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Christian Isichei, a medical doctor, founded Faith Alive Foundation in 1996 with immense Christian faith and almost no funds – some $300. It has since grown and thrived. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) was the first organization to fund the clinic and has supported Faith Alive Foundation since 2003.
MCC currently supports parts of Faith Alive’s Skills Acquisition Program as well as scholarships for elementary age orphans and vulnerable children, and HIV and AIDS outreach and awareness programs, which include free HIV testing and medication for the virus. In the past, MCC has also placed MCC workers at the clinic and organized MCC-sponsored learning tour visits.
Bakut referred Moses to the Skills Acquisition Program. Begun in 2003, it provides four to 12 months of free training in computers and machine sewing and knitting. In addition, all students take Christian discipleship classes that encourage faith development, Bible study and accountability. The program also offers basic business seminars.
The program gives priority to orphans, widows and individuals infected and affected by HIV and AIDS who have no form of income or support. In 2011 Faith Alive graduated 15 computer students, eight sewing students and three knitting students.
Moses received a free sewing machine when she graduated in 2007, pledging to use it to generate income. Not only is she now earning her own livelihood, but Moses also supports four younger siblings attending secondary school and college. And she’s helping others who face the same challenges she’s recently overcome to find their own paths to self-sufficiency.
Spiritually Moses has started a new life in Christ through the discipleship training at Faith Alive. She is an active member of a Faith Alive support group where participants share past experiences and encourage each other’s behavior changes and spiritual transformation.
During a recent visit at her shop, Moses exuded confidence, warmth and energy. “I’m doing great!” she exclaimed. “I have girls working under me, seven apprentices and two Faith Alive interns. I teach the theory and the practical here, and I’ve already graduated five apprentices.” Moses already dreams of finding a larger space to expand her business.
Segun Adeyanju, administrator for Faith Alive’s Social Services, is proud of Moses’ achievements and grateful that she “gives back” by training others.
Another graduate of Faith Alive’s Skills Acquisition Program, 23-year-old Hajara Yakubu, received a knitting machine after completing her training in 2010.
Working from her friend’s shop in Tinna Junction, a sprawling Jos community, Yakubu knits full-time at her machine, producing sweaters and baby outfits. Infant clothing sells well in Nigeria, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing populations.
Yakubu realizes better and steadier earnings from her knitting machine than she did with her work before the training – plaiting hair and hand-knitting. Yakubu gives some of her earnings to her parents and is saving as much as she can, hoping to open her own shop this year.
Patricia Yusuf, 47, became acquainted with Faith Alive when, after testing positive for HIV, she was referred to one of the organization’s clinics. She receives medicine for anti-retroviral therapy. She began attending a Faith Alive support group for those living with HIV and AIDS and learned of the skills initiative.
Now a graduate, Yusuf uses her knitting machine to make sweaters, including for children who need custom-made sweaters as part of their school uniforms. She knits in her bedroom in the family compound in a quiet rural area outside of Jos. Widowed seven years ago when her husband died of AIDS, Yusuf lives with her two youngest children.
Her earnings paid her children’s school fees and allow her to buy better, healthier food. “I am still alive,” she said. “I have something to eat.” She is grateful that Faith Alive Foundation chose her for its knitting school.
Brenda Hartman-Souder serves as MCC Nigeria representative with her husband, Mark. They are from Syracuse, N.Y.