In June, One Thread Project co-founders Amy Williams of Lincoln and her sister-in-law, Suzanne Campbell of Kansas City, traveled with a team to the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide business training to women.
“This trip was a longtime fulfillment and hope for the project in order to see, in person, all that has been developed thanks to generous donors over the last three years,” said Williams.
Three years ago, Williams first stood in Congo to meet her soon-to-be adopted daughter. On that trip, she also met Paul Manzana, for whom she would later return to support his and his wife’s dream of operating a sewing training center in Congo. Williams invited her sister-in-law, Campbell, to join this mission, and One Thread Project was born.
The first fundraiser was a simple Mother’s Day campaign to purchase sewing machines in 2015, Williams said. Friends and family from Lincoln said “yes,” and the effort to sponsor one sewing machine grew to sponsoring one woman. The program then quickly grew from sponsoring five women to 35.
Today, three years later, a sewing training center, a boutique and a cooperative group are up and running in Congo.
Williams and Campbell knew that offering each woman job skills was the next step in their journey to thriving.
"We believe through education, job training and holistic support, families will not just survive day-to-day but thrive," Campbell said.
The One Thread Project was born out of a deep desire to find a different narrative for children in Congo – one of families instead of orphanages.
"We took a step back and asked a bigger question: 'What were the obstacles that separated mothers and their children?'" Williams explained. "While many of the answers are complex, one is simple. Being able to provide a roof overhead and food for the belly requires access to money, which requires job skills. If we could walk it back to this step, then just maybe we could make an impact. Maybe one child might not become an orphan."
In a region that suffers from crippling unemployment rates, many young people are unskilled and uneducated. Through the One Thread Program, students work for one year at Emmanuel Sewing Center in the capital city of Kinshasa. They walk through the doors with no knowledge of clothing construction, and through hard work and dedication, they begin to design and create on their own.
After one year in sewing school, the women transition to a sewing boutique, which is similar to a graduate school. There they continue to perfect their skills and create garments to be sold. In this new setting, they begin to earn an income to become financially independent through their work.
"Here they learn the art of tailoring and refine their skills," Williams said. "We offer sewing training, internships at the boutique, and support for launching new graduate-owned businesses."
Recently, One Thread partnered with Alternativ Global Entrepreneurs to bring Business Essentials Training to women in Congo. Williams, Campbell and their team provided a week of training in June with 54 attendees. Each student learned about dreaming, customer service, pricing, record keeping, budgeting, savings, ethics and leadership. They learned to put together a business plan, objectives and a proposed budget.
“Seeing the men and women learn to overcome obstacles, both real and perceived, to even write down a dream was rewarding for the team,” Williams said. "The Alternativ curriculum provides the women we support with high-impact business training and mentorship, equipping them to start small businesses and break the poverty cycle."
During their visits to Congo, Williams and Campbell have seen the powerful impact that sponsorship can have on one woman’s life. They have returned home to Lincoln to work hard on increasing their sponsor base, so that more women can attend school and begin to thrive.
To learn more, visit reedsofhope.org and see the One Thread Project page.