Stitching Chow Kit back together

PETALING JAYA: Three years ago, two young men turned to YouTube to learn basic hand stitching techniques.

Their goal? To teach single mothers and underprivileged women in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, how to make a living with sewing and crafting skills.

For their efforts, UmieAktif is judged as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2018.

The non-profit social enterprise, started by Lawrence Anak Abus and Nik Sin Nik Man, also won the Star-Gamuda Inspiration Award, which came with an extra RM50,000.

Lawrence, 32, and Nik Sin, 36, started by giving weekly classes to these women at the back lane of Chow Kit under dim lights provided by one of the shop vendors.

The women were taught how to sew stuffed toys by hand using recycled materials and fabric, and also how to sell their products.

Before the idea to set up UmieAktif came, the co-founders were tutoring children in Chow Kit under an NGO for about five years.

“While we were teaching kids how to read back then, their mothers would approach us and ask to borrow some money.

“They say that they cannot afford to pay for their daily room rental of RM20 and were forced to sleep outside.

“So Nik suggested we create job opportunities for them,” said Lawrence, a lecturer from Sibu, Sarawak.

Lawrence said he did not have the heart to see children going without food or education and that was why they decided to help the mothers.

“In order for us to empower the children, we have to empower the parents first,” he said.

Lawrence and Nik Sin, who met 10 years ago as housemates, started researching for the right trade for the women and settled on hand sewing, as tools like needle, thread and scissors were affordable.

“There were about 60 of them who decided to give it a try.

“UmieAktif was a name chosen by these women, who said they want to change their lives for the better,” said Nik Sin, a surveyor for the Survey and Mapping Department.

Today, the women can produce plush toys, bags, neck pillows and key chains, among others.

Made in Chow Kit: Participants of UmieAktif hard at work making hand-sewn products.

They are able to make a living, send their children to school and provide shelter for their families.

For Nik Sin, the smile on the women’s faces come pay day every month makes all their sacrifices worthwhile.

“I like to see people smiling. In the beginning, they would break down, asking us to lend them some money, but when they follow the programme, they became independent.

“We will give them a salary towards the end of the month.

“When I see them happy making an honest living, we are satisfied that all our efforts are not in vain,” said Nik Sin.

Over time, the success of UmieAktif in Chow Kit has motivated Lawrence and Nik Sin to expand the programme.

Currently, it is also conducted in Kampung Melayu Ampang, KL and Kota Baru, Kelantan, where Nik Sin hails from.

Lawrence said the recognition and cash incentive that UmieAktif won would enable them to pursue their dream of setting up a branch in Sarawak.

“We know there are many who are very talented in handcrafting but do not know how and where to market their products,” he added.

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