14 July 2017
Social fabric strengthened
Picture: Jocelyn Nickels
As published in The Border Watch.
Written by Jocelyn Nickels.

Community band need tailor-made for Congolese refugee

Congolese refugee Alpha Shonda is quickly making his mark on the Blue Lake city as he uses his impressive sewing skills to integrate into the community.

Working as a tailor in the Congo for many years, Shondo is no stranger to sewing, with his skills shining through in the Mount Gambier Migrant Resource Centre’s (MRC) I Made It sewing enterprise program.

Without a pattern to follow, he can quickly and accurately sew together a shirt, dress or pair of pants – something which does not come easily to many. After only eight months in Mount Gambier, Shondo is putting his skills to good use and earning some money of his own by making waistcoats for the Mount Gambier City Band.

After struggling to find a tailor that could make a new set of waistcoats for the ever growing group, band president Craig Wood decided to try his luck at the MRC. Reading an article in The Border Watch about the centre’s sewing program, here ached out to MRC manager Anelia Blackie to see if the centre could help meet uniform needs.

“As a local community band, it just made sense that we should try and support local businesses and projects wherever possible,” Mr Wood said.

Already witnessing Shondo’s excellent sewing skills, Ms Blackie quickly accepted the offer and the partnership with Mount Gambier City Band was formed.

“It is fantastic that a local band is giving him the chance to prove himself and develop into someone who could potentially earn a living out of making clothes and do alterations for the wider Mount Gambier community,” Ms Blackie said. “This is a great example of what the I Made It program was set out to achieve for our migrants.”

With help from MRC volunteer Jen von Stanke, Shondo started to create the waistcoats with ease and precision.

“As soon as I gave him the material, he just took off and made them so quickly and easily – he didn’t even need a pattern to follow,” Ms Von Stanke said.

Thrilled with the product he received, Mr Wood said they would continue the partnership with Shondo in the future.

“We were prepared to accept that we might not be able to get an exact match for the waistcoats, but when we saw them we were absolutely delighted with the finished product,” he said.

“Shondo, with Jen’s support, has done an amazing job and the band is extremely pleased to have found a local supplier of the waistcoats.

“It is a great situation for us because we can order the waistcoats as needed and it is about supporting our community.” Learning and developing his skills, Shondo said he hopes he will be able to start a business of his own in Mount Gambier.

“I am really enjoying making the waistcoats – since I started I have learnt a lot of new things, including how to use a sewing machine and an iron,” he said. “I would love to start my own business and make women’s clothing and men’s shirts and pants, but I first need to learn how to work with patterns.”

The I Made It sewing program was made possible through a grant by the Stand Like Stone Foundation and OneFortyOne Plantations.

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