Chestertown Rotary Empowers Zambian Women


Our little town is doing big things around the world! Last fall the Chestertown Rotary Club received a district grant from the Rotary Foundation for the work CoLaborers International, a local nonprofit, assists in Zambia, Central Africa. The grant effort was led by Rotary Club president Andy Meehan, Paul Heckles and Melissa Stuebing with overwhelming support from the community.

This grant, combined with donations from Chestertown Rotary Club and CoLaborers International donors, was used to purchase a total of 14 Singer sewing machines. These machines have truly sewn change into the lives of Zambian women.

CoLaborers International assists Chisomo Centers in Lusaka, Zambia. Chisomo Centers reaches out to homeless street children. A preventative and responsive part of this outreach is to work with families and the community so that children are reintegrated into families and families have financial and educational support. Chisomo Centers has 60 women in its economic empowerment program, which they refer to as the “Mothers’ Programme”.

CoLaborers International sent local seamstress Tori Neales to Zambia in October to provide a training for these women on how to use the sewing machines and also to teach basic sewing skills – teaching women various stitches, as well as to make bags, aprons, pillowcases and other handicrafts using African fabrics. This training was done over two weeks in groups of 15.

We saw incredible support from the community. Twigs & Teacups sponsored a First Friday Event in October selling some of the Zambian women’s jewelry and other products. WCTR did a couple special programs about the progress of the grant. Skippy’s Riverside Gifts made plaques for each of the machines specifying that they were donated by Rotary Foundation or CoLaborers International. Chestertown Rotarians, Interact at Kent County High School and Rotaract at Washington College did an in-kind donation drive of sewing materials, Hope Fellowship donated to the Neales, and several community members, especially the Weiders, donated their time and money to help make this happen. Thank you!

Josephine Chilunjika, director of Chisomo Centers’ Mothers’ Programme, has been working with impoverished women and children in Lusaka, Zambia since 1992 and is now overseeing its continued progress. The sewing machines are kept securely in a custom built locking cage at the center. Each machine is cataloged and cared for after each use. The work has been sustainable and the women have a schedule for meeting at the center to continue sewing products.

Kent County High School Interact club with donations

Through this grant, Chestertown Rotary and CoLaborers International have provided educational business training and skill development to needy women to improve their quality of life.  They have empowered a community that has been often without education, opportunity or resources. Skill development in sewing helps women through cost avoidance – being able to make clothing for themselves and their kids.  It also empowers them to have a reliable income through sales at local markets.

But it doesn’t stop there, CoLaborers International will be sending a follow-up training team of fashion students to build on the skill set that the women have already learned in August of this year. Seamstress Tori Neales and her husband will also be returning.

To find out how you can get involved with CoLaborers, visit If you are interested in joining Rotary, stop in at the Fish Whistle on the first, second and third Tuesdays of the month at noon and see how you can start impacting the Chestertown community and the world through Rotary International.

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