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CRAFTING BETTER LIVES, ONE STITCH AT A TIME

The Lulu Project empowers young women through art and education

By Sakina Nanabhai

Swahili English

It’s easy to mistake The Lulu Project’s (TLP) headquarters for a church when you walk inside, due to the white cross carved on its walls.

But when you venture upstairs, the understated layout of the bottom floor fades away into a kaleidoscope of color that defies any preconception. 

Stacks of children’s clothes made from kitenge fabric, crocheted blankets and ornaments, and stuffed toys fill the room, surrounded by the girls who created them—young women, usually in groups of 10-20, who come together to hone their skills and share in the community. 

Led by Corine ’t Hart, the founder of TLP, they transform yarn and pieces of fabric into handmade creations for sale. “These are one of the favorite items created by our women,” she shared, referring to an assortment of teddy bears, hippos, and giraffes made from kitenge. 

Contrary to what one might assume, Corine—who moved to Tanzania eight years ago—shared that she didn’t know how to make any of the handcrafted goods when she first started TLP. She fostered a sense of humanitarianism from a young age, when her family welcomed children through the Red Cross into their home in Holland over summer holidays, and her educational background is in African Studies. But when she combined those two aspects of her life to start TLP, she realized that the missing piece was something completely unfamiliar to her.

“In order to teach the girls, I first had to learn these little things myself,” she smiled. “We started with some YouTube clips to teach ourselves, and then the skills were passed on to the girls.” Today, 26 TLP mentors “take care of these groups and ensure the girls are learning the crafts in the most effective manner.”

But artisanship is only the beginning. Beyond that, Lulu girls also receive lessons related to life skills, financial literacy, health, and entrepreneurship. As part of the Society of African Missions (SMA), a Catholic congregation working among the most vulnerable people in society, Corine was asked to work with girls between 15-25 years old. The Lulu Project weaves crafting into its larger mission: to provide a sense of empowerment to those it reaches from vulnerable backgrounds.

In Tanzania, that particular age group is viewed as more susceptible to societal pressures. During those years of adolescence and young adulthood, many girls drop out of school due to accidental pregnancy. Others face pressure from their families, who wish for them to manage the household. 

Through the efforts of groups like The Lulu Project, though, Corine aims to change the patterns that have limited women across Tanzania for generations. Since starting The Lulu Project six years ago, after she moved to the country, she’s already seen success and promise for the future. 

“The response has mostly been positive,” she shared. “The families are usually happy that even after some of the girls dropped out of school or got pregnant, they got a second chance with life.” At the same time, she noted, girls are also viewed as an asset, and other families push back against any efforts to distract their daughters from their ‘household duties.’ “They are required to do a lot of the chores at home, [like] take care of the younger siblings,” Corine said. “Or, they cannot leave their children at home with the husbands.”

As a result, Corine’s job encompasses more than teaching the Lulu girls how to crochet blankets and sew on buttons. Much of her role necessitates her speaking to parents and trying to compromise—to ensure that the girls have the flexibility to pursue their dreams and learn career-related skills, while not taking too much of their time away from their families.

“It is important to bring that realization into the girls early on, so that by the time when they have their own families, they are not dependent on anyone and can provide for their loved ones through healthy means,” Corine added. 

She knows that these changes, like stitching something from scratch, are the product of time and care. But Corine finds inspiration in the girls who have thrived from their involvement in TLP over the years. She pointed at one girl, Elizabeth, who quietly worked on a laptop across the room. Their paths crossed “when she had just finished her form four education,” Corine recalled, her eyes glimmering with pride. “She was keen to learn more, and in no time, became a very essential part of our project.” 

As of today, Elizabeth is the most veteran member of TLP and handles administrative duties on top of her job as a facilitator. And thanks to the work of TLP, her story is only one thread of many that connect girls in Tanzania to a brighter future. 

For more information on The Lulu Project, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/luluproject

About the author

sakinakavi@yahoo.com

Sakina Nanabhai:

Hey there! This is Sakina. I am a full-time mommy and a freelance journalist. I spend most of my days pampering and absolutely spoiling my little toddler girl, Lubaina. (Remember the name because I talk a lot about her). Once she is off to bed, I spend my nights hammering down my laptop keys, and writing articles. I love interviewing and meeting new people. Having interviewed Tanzanian multi-millionaires, fashion designers, models, artists and a lot of famous personalities in the past, with Dreamlink I wish to reach out to the 'ordinary' women of Tanzania with extraordinary stories of courage and perseverance. Dreamlink came across as a dream-come-true opportunity to work with like-minded people with crazy ideas and ambitions, and who dare to make their dreams come true, by daring to dream! Happy to connect with you to know about your dreams that don’t let you sleep at night.

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