Monrovia - Janet D. ward, a 39 year-old second grade dropout was doing manual sewing – stitching buttons on her kids’ clothes, until she was trained to work for one of Liberia’s largest school uniforms producers.
She was among 300 women recruited and trained as industrial tailors by Liberty and Justice Trading Company in Monrovia.
“We are now paid daily after the Ebola,” the mother of six said.
“Before the Ebola, we used to sign big contracts for huge money to last us for two years or more, but due to Ebola, we lost a big contract, so we are doing school uniforms for charity.”
At the factor where Janet works, over hundred sewing machines spread across the room worked by busy women sewing school uniforms.
Some were seen packaging the finished products, ready to be supply to schools that have already placed orders.
Janet was recruited along with many other women from a local church while others were recruited from several communities outside Monrovia.
During the duration of their training, they received medical benefits, rice, development fund and monthly salary of US$150.00.
Prevailing market conditions have forced the company to scale down operations, and Janet now earns U$13 dollars daily, which she calls “hand to mouth, just enough to sustain her family daily”.
“I am not educated but this is a career that I am living off, so anybody who is not educated like me can make a living from sewing."
"I used to do home sewing and never knew about factory sewing, but our boss brought outside people and spent good money to train us to do factory sewing, I can sew very well now,” she said.
“Our boss is doing well for the children of Liberia to give them free uniforms that even our own children are benefiting from the uniforms we make, once they are attending schools wearing the same uniforms.”
The company sponsored several women to attend the accelerated learning program, but the process was disrupted by the Ebola crisis. Now several of its participants are on the standby, waiting for the business condition to improve.
“My life changed since I started this work, because it has empowered me."
"Our boss man is very good, because he was small and went to the US and he did not know us from anywhere, but he came to Liberia and made it possible to empower us.
He was not forced to do what he is doing for the women of Liberia to be able to find their daily bread, and equally help the children of Liberia with free uniforms to go to school,” she said.
Chelehgar Liberty owns the Liberty and Justice Trading Company; he returned to Liberia in 2010 to start the firm after living most of life in the United States.
But the company, like many other businesses, is still suffering the impact of the Ebola virus disease on Liberia’s economy. It is still recovering.
In 2010, the company produced T-shirts amongst clothes, but was hit hard by the EVD, losing many of its customers.
When school reopened after the outbreak, the firm opted to supply free school uniforms to students who had lost their parents to the virus.
Mr. Liberty’s employees rank him as the “kindest boss ever” after he resolved to donating free uniforms to Ebola orphans, despite the risk of losing his investments.
He says his company is setup to give back to his country.
And his employees, who are mostly women, hail him for his down-to-earth attribute, which they say helps them communicate directly with him and enhance their productivity at work.
Reagan J. Willie, the longest serving employee of the company who started as a generator attendant, now holds an administrative position.
“We are targeting to donate 50,000 uniforms to schools in Liberia."
"We are out of stock because we are donating it free to schools; we have over 300 women standing by to work."
"Once we start active operations, they will come back but now the few we have here are working on the uniforms and they are paid daily,” Willie said.
Reagan said women are recruited from various communities, but have to pass the aptitude and sight tests to prepare them for training before being qualify to work with the company.
“We recruited over 500 women but only three hundred made it, because one cannot be suffering from sight problem and we allow them to sew, because you are dealing with measurement and you have to see well."
"We had 102 new recruits we were training before the Ebola, but it was stopped due to the Ebola outbreak,” he said.
He said the company employs women in order to empower them, because “it is not good for women to just sit home and depend on their husbands to meet all their needs, they have to be productive”.
“Therefore, I encourage more women to come and get the training to be productive, even if they do not work at the company in the future, they can use the skill to do their sewing in their various communities,” he said.