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Tsunami – help from a sewing machine?

bethea | Posted in General Discussion on

I’m sure many  in the  home sewing community have been following the terrible news from the  Indian Ocean just as I have.   So many heartbreaking  stories and pictures of  unimaginable  destruction have prompted me to make donations to UNICEF and  the Red Cross.  I know that  the money  will be  used to provide immediate relief  in the  efforts to provide the victims with medical care, clean water and food.  However a  recent internet article on the BBC really  struck a chord  with me.  How are many widows and orphans going to provide  for  themselves after the major relief efforts are over? 

You might like to read the same article.  I’ve excerpted the heart grabbing paragraphs.

Tamil women face up to survival
Women in northern Sri Lanka who survived the tsunami need help to pick up the
pieces, reports the BBC’s Frances Harrison.
< http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/world/south_asia/4151839.stm >

For her friend, Viyadiyandani, one of the most upsetting things, though, was the loss of her sewing machine.

Devastation in the village of Vathiragan

The village of Vathiragan lies in ruins

“When my daughter was about four or five I worked really hard for three years doing manual labour and I saved a little money to buy a sewing machine,” she recounts.

She worked as a tailor. “I thought with that machine I could manage a very good future for my daughter so I was happy and returned to my own village to live.”

Away with the sewing machine went her future.

“Away with the sewing machine went her future.”  Those are awful words.

How can we help this woman regain her future?  How can we help others like her, for whom a sewing machine can mean feeding a family for years to come?  Does anyone know of any group or charity that can be contacted about providing female heads of household with the life giving gift of sewing machine?  I’m ready to contribute.



  1. stitchmd | | #1

    Good idea. How about asking manufacturers to donate machines, or to set up a system for donations to buy wholesale priced machines for the people in the area.

  2. suesew | | #2

    Different countries use different electrical systems. Machines need to be compatible or treadle. How does one even begin to think about helping....

  3. kayl | | #3

    What a good idea to get sewing machines back to these women. I'll check around and see if I can find a group that's "already on the ground" and can handle the logistics. I'm thinking maybe one of the
    groups like Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka, or one of the groups that works to extend "microcredit" to women at nominal interest. I suspect shipping our old sewing machines there is not cost-effective, even if they were altered to handcrank or treadle.

    Kay Lancaster [email protected]

    1. bethea | | #4


      Thanks so much for having an idea of where to start   There must be many families that relied on a sewing machine for income and that lost them to the tsunami.  I'd like to contribute money and know that it would be spent to replace the machines.  I see this as long term help.

      I know  that when I worked for Singer, [back in the dark ages - thinking of the fiasco of that first electronic machine the Futura], during the early seventies they had a factory in Brazil that still produced treadle sewing machines specifically for what was known as the third world market.  I had no intention of sending old machines to these poor women.  Ideally it would be better for the recipient country's economy if the appropriate machines could be found there.  Less money for shipping and more for the actual machines too. 

      Anyway, if we could find a charity that would be willing to handle the big job of finding the machines and determining who should receive them I would think the sewing community might just come through with the money to support a project like this.

      Warmest regards


      1. kayl | | #5

        I think you're right that the sewing community would come through for something like this... the "infrastructure for self-help" in developmentese. And we who sew tend to be good about being able to squeeze a few more nickels out for something we really want to accomplish. :-) I've sent off half a dozen queries... I'll do some more hunting tonight. Recovering from the tsunami, even in an economic sense, is going to be a long, hard road. It'd sure be nice to know we could help with long term development through a hobby/profession we enjoy, and maybe make it a bit easier for some women who need a big boost right now.Kay

        1. User avater
          ehBeth | | #6

          book-marking this thread


        2. bethea | | #7


          As I am new to this site I didn't really realize the lack of activity , if I'm mistaken I apologize, I really had hoped for more input from regular attendees here.  Do you think I should have posted this message in another area of the site? I haven't been  using the internet very long, do you know of any sites that might generate more ideas for the furtherance of this project? 

          I've been doing some preliminary talking with a couple of fabric stores in my area and they are excited about helping (donation cans on counter and a possible raffle).  But rightly, they want something firm about who would be receiving the funds and handling the distribution of the sewing machines.  I've got calls into a couple of quilters guilds and am waiting for them to meet and  discuss how they could help generate some funds, again all waiting to find a charity that will handle this.  I have an ex-Peace Corps executive friend who says this isn't what is usually handled by them, but she's doing some checking with people still in  the corps,  keeping  my fingers crossed for at least some guidance.  Does anyone know someone associated with the Heifer Project?  Having no luck contacting anyone there who can give me any idea of whether they could help.  Maybe if sewing machines could moo...



          1. kayl | | #8

            Gatherings often isn't a very active spot, but it seemed to me a good idea to keep things here until we can find a relief group that's interested in working with the idea of replacing sewing machines. (I still haven't heard anything back from anyone yet -- I imagine things are still busy!) I'm still hunting for more possible groups to work with. (And one of the people I'm trying to contact is a volunteer with Heifer Project.)Once we get a group who's willing to handle such issues, I think we could take it to more active boards/email lists/local shops easily.BTW, and away from the tsunami topic, have you met The Creative Machine group? It's an email list, rather than being web based like Gatherings, and also owned by Threads. It's quite lively, with a couple of thousand members, as I recall... and a good source of sewing energy and knowledge in a different format. We have guest hosts every other week -- often folks with specialized knowledge -- and a sort of open sewing mike format the rest of the time. You can join (or just poke through some recent posts to see if it's something you're interested in) at:

          2. carolfresia | | #9

            Hi Ornanut,

            I love your idea, and Kay's spin on it, to find a way to provide sewing machines for tsunami survivors. This kind of thing isn't my area of expertise, but I did send a message to the Seva foundation (http://www.seva.org), to see if they might be able to provide some assistance or at least suggestions. I'll let you know what I hear from them.


          3. bethea | | #10

            Kay and Carol,

            Kay, I guess I just need reassurance that this is a good idea, I just can't get that poor woman out of my mind.  I'll look into the group you mentioned and I agree if and when we have a charity lined up we should post something there. 

            Carol, it is wonderful to hear that you also think this is an idea worth pursuing.  I'll check out the  Seva site later this evening.  Keep in touch.



          4. RobininNH | | #11

            I know some folks with Heifer International and can try to see who to contact over the weekend. I also know a Women in Business group and see if they have any ideas on how to do this. Great idea!

          5. kayl | | #12

            I think it's a wonderful idea -- the problem is just finding a group that already has some expertise in targeting women. I'm finding a lot of information on microcredit in SE Asia for agriculture, but so far not much focusing on regular business and women specifically. I'm sure there's something out there.. I just need to keep looking.BTW, microcredit loans to women in Africa and South America have payback rates of 90-99%, which helps keep the money going around the community while giving women the initial capital they need to support their business. In some cases, the loans are being paid back at pennies a week, but they do get paid. India is even experimenting with micro-microcredit for roadside beggars, to give them a bit of cash so they can buy a product to sell instead of just begging. My contact with the Heifer project is in Costa Rica at the moment -- she'll be back Saturday. Haven't heard anything else from anyone, but
            I'm going to start phone calls to embassys Monday. Determined women can get things done. <g>Kay

          6. User avater
            paddyscar | | #13

            I was speaking today with a lady from our church who is going back to Sri Lanka to be with her family there.  She was looking for yard goods to take back with her for her family to have made into clothing as tailoring is not as expensive as buying ready-made.

            So, fabric donations from our stashes ( not that I would have such a thing :) may also be something to think about as well. 

          7. LizSW | | #18

            Hi. I love your idea. There is a current business student at Harvard Business School who comes from Sri Lanka, I believe. He has begun to organize donations to his country, primarily using the internet. But he might be a person to contact to see if he has an interest in this concept since it has a business component. And he might be able to help find the right contacts on the ground. Also, I would not rule out the use of machines from the US without talking to the people there first. If I can track down his name, I will email it to you.
            Liz Warner

          8. kayl | | #19

            Yes, thank you, Liz!Kay

          9. fronno | | #20

            Hello all,I am a newbie but I would like to put some dimes into this discussion. I am working in Cameroon, Africa (in a certain kind of way, how I will explain later to you in an other posting) but the machine which are going to be send over there have to have the following things:1. maintenance free, because there does not exist a mender overthere, unless it is someone whom teached it her/himself and a single exception.
            2. the machine needs to have a zigzag
            3. the machine has to have the possibility for to be rebuild into a machine which can be operated by hand or by feet (sorry, I do not know the word for it)
            4. stay on the safe side with electricity because that is very expensive for the people overthere, so when there are machines send overthere let it be machines with as less as possible watt and voltage.I hope that you can take this with you.A land as Indonesia is perhaps more gifted with menders for the sewingmachines, but a countries as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, etc. definitely not, (I talk from experience)Kind regards,

          10. elainegood | | #21

            Thanks for your reminder that what we in the US or Canada think is an appropriate donation or way to do something, may not actually be the best way in another culture or country. Are you saying that there likely aren't repair persons for many machines?I thought the original poster said this person she saw on TV had her machine washed away in the flood. So, I'd assume that someone had maintained and repaired that machine in the past. The trick might be to find similar machines so there's no need for unknown kinds of repairs.From my understanding, the damage in India, for instance, was only near the shore. There are many many sewing machines in India and also in places like Thailand. The hard part is not figuring out which machine is needed (or where to purchase it - obviously it is much cheaper and helps the local economy more to buy it locally). The hard part is getting the distribution part done and finding and/or maintaining the organization that can work out the details of loans, repayments, who qualifies, etc etc. In my opinion we need some sort of partner group like Mennonite Central Committee (mentioned just because it's the one that I'm most familiar with) who already know which groups in these areas are doing a good job at micro-loans, and are familiar with micro-economic principles etc.

          11. fronno | | #22

            Hello Elaine,Yes indeed, that is in fact what I am saying, no techinicians for to keep the machines up. In Thailand for sure, in India more possible to find them. But the organisation which you mentioned will probably have the knowledge for what is the best to do. Buy them in the good old USA and Canada or buy them overthere.
            I can only give you an example between the prices overhere in Holland and the prices in Cameroon. I can buy here a very good machine (taling electric now) for about 4oo euro. When I have bought one for that price, I have the newest from the newest in the simple classifaction. When I buy for that amount a machine in Cameroon a have a machine which is already twenty years old, for sure, and second hand.
            In my opinion you better can get the old sewingmachines, the heavy ones, which were always running and doesnot need muchy maintenance. They are cheaper, second (or whatever :)) hand. Only straight down and zigzag, mayby with a buttonhole, but that is not def. necessary. The logistics are indeed the problem. But talk with the organisation with whom you are acquinted. For to buy them overthere is not such a good idea, because nine out of time times you have te deal then with a shops (if you can call them like that) which are not quite trustable. Lots and lots of money for almost nothing and no service. Mostly of the time the salesman himself even doesn't know how the sewingmacine is working.
            In my opinion the best way for to get the machines and the other donations to them is by ship. You pay by square meter (overhere in holland) is the cheapest and most reliable way.
            But Elaine, it is a really, really good job what you are doing. I know that. You will give namely the people, and especially the women, their selfesteem back.With kind regards,

          12. MsRita | | #26

            I would love to help also.  I asked a contact from CUSO she is heading to Belize for a two year tour she gave me this web address.



             They work in the area and could help advise us on who to contact on the ground.

            Edited 2/14/2005 2:32 pm ET by msrita

            Edited 2/19/2005 10:29 pm ET by msrita

    2. LaForge | | #14

      If anyone can find a place for us to help, it will be Kay.  She is not only the Queen of the Internet, but Queen of anything biological.



      1. kayl | | #15

        GAAAK!!!But I'm still working on it... I've found several likely candidates,
        mostly working onthe Grameen Bank credit model, which has helped many, many folks with loans to be paid back over time at minimal interest, with the money immediately reinvested in more loans for more poor people. Women's work is a definite interest of the microcredit model.Kay

        1. rjf | | #16

          I think the weaving guild I belong to would donate because we did buy a llama from the Heifer Foundation before Christmas.  I'll check with the treasurer to be sure about funds.       rjf

        2. LaForge | | #17

          I have the utmost faith in you!  <g>


  4. SewingChriss | | #23

    I too saw the BBC report on the lady in Sri Lanka.  I thought about it all night and was moved to tears.  I could not imagine life without my sewing machines.  I also would like to find a way of donating sewing machines to the ladies who have lost everything including their precious sewing machines and their means to earning a living.

  5. mantuamaker | | #24

    I am a member of the Rohnert Park-Cotati Rotary Club. We are working with the Rotarians of Patong Beach, Thailand, on helping their area. The Patong Beach Rotarians are focussed on long-term help, including the possibility of develping a microbank. One good thing about Rotary (the largest service club in the world) is that we know the Rotarians who will receive and administer the aid, and know it will not go astray but will be truly used for the purpose intended with no "shrinkage". If you wish, I will bring this thread to the attention of Joe Lindland, member of our club who visited the Phuket/Patong Beach area in the week afteer the tsunami to meet with and develop a plan of action with the local Rotarians. I am sure he will be happy to introduce you to the Rotarians of Patong Beach and Phuket.
    Vida Jones

  6. MargaretWI | | #25

    I read this story with great interest. I work at a small sewing machine dealership and we have many many used, but working machines with no homes. In addition, we have many customers who are looking for places to donate machines. I am working on finding a group that would fund the shipping of these machines to the Tsunami-affected areas. What I don't have is a group who is already there who would be willing to distribute the machines once they arrive. Each group I've contacted only takes monetary donations. Any suggestions?

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