When a woman thinks about leaving the sex trade, her main consideration is, “Will I have enough money? How will I pay my debts? Do I have the skills to find a job? Am I too old to make a switch?”
Ah Hwa used to work as a sewing machine operator in a factory. Unfortunately, she lost her job when most of the local garment factories moved to the mainland 20 years ago. Ah Hwa’s illiteracy limited her job options and she ended up working in a tea shop. But she always hoped for something better, “I’m going to be 60 in a few years’ time. If I want to change jobs, I need to do it soon.”
My team leader, Tera van Twillert, started the Pearl Family Garden’s handicraft project, to help women like Ah Hwa find alternative sources of income. Although the sums involved were small, Tera hoped that it would encourage the women to think about their options. Tera decided to encourage Ah Hwa by developing new products that would use her sewing skills.
God provided several things / people at just the right time. First, someone donated an old sewing machine. Then, one of our volunteers put us in touch with a sewing teacher. She taught Ah Hwa to make scarfs and hats. Around the same time, a brother-in-Christ heard Tera’s sharing and decided that he would be the channel of distribution for these scarfs and hats to be sold in local night markets. In this way, Ah Hwa was able to spend one or two afternoons each week, operating the sewing machine in the PFG, rather than working in the tea shop.
As Ah Hwa spent time with Tera and other Christians, she experienced God’s favor. One day, she complained of pain in her leg. Her sewing teacher, Mdm Kwang, prayed for healing. When Ah Hwa’s leg got better, she was surprised, “Is this what you mean by the power of prayer? It worked!”
Ah Hwa wanted to find a cleaning job but she didn’t know where to look. My co-worker, Edna McKelleher, accompanied Ah Hwa to Taipei city government’s employment service agency. Ah Hwa did not know how to write down addresses or get around the city by public transport so Edna had to take her to each job interview. When Edna helped her fill up the job application forms, someone exclaimed, “What? You have to bring a secretary with you to get a job?”
A couple of months after starting her new job, Ah Hes dropped by our center during our handicraft class. She wore a T-shirt with the company logo. She was beaming. The dignity of honest, hard work bolstered her self-esteem and gave her confidence. The first words she said were, “Anybody looking for a job? My company has vacancies!”
Every Friday afternoon 8-10 women turn up to make different products – gospel beads, cross-stitch, stuffed owls and persimmons. The handicraft class is a way for them to earn some money and learn new skills. Others enjoy the fellowship and persevere despite poor eyesight or shaky hands. June, who does cross-stitch, says, “It makes my heart feel peaceful.” The women are excited and motivated when we receive large orders (e.g. 300 owls for someone’s wedding). June often boasts, “Our products have gone as far as Holland, Australia and Singapore!”
The Friday handicraft class gives us a way to reach women in the community who may not attend our Thursday meetings. At the end of each class, we tell Bible stories or stories that teach Christian values. By spending time with these women, we build deeper relationships and gain precious opportunities to share God’s word and pray with them on a one-to-one basis.
Thank God for small beginnings that lead to big changes!
Teo Sin-Ee, Taipei