- Contributed Hector Symes repairs a sewing machine for Carol McDougall for the women in Mexico.

West Kelowna woman empowers others with sewing machines

Carol McDougall has been teaching sewing lessons in Mexico for the last eight years

A West Kelowna woman is using her passion for home economics to empower women in Mexico.

Carol McDougall has been taking sewing machines and materials to Melaque since 2010 in order to teach sewing classes.

The project started when McDougall noticed a group of women surrounding an old, dirty, sewing machine near her hotel during a visit to Mexico. After several attempts to gather materials and fix the machine, she was unsuccessful.

However, the women were resourceful and found a mechanic. It wasn’t long before one of them, Angelica, asked McDougall for lessons.

McDougall enjoyed taking home economic classes when she was in school and had a knack for sewing, so she agreed.

RELATED: Kids learn to sew in Kelowna

“It was interesting that all the teaching was done on the outside of the hotel and people would come by and ask what we’re doing,” she said.

After a few weeks of basic lessons, McDougall asked Angelica what she hoped to achieve.

Angelica said she wanted to make a tablecloth, curtains and a pair of shorts.

What started with Angelica grew to include 50 women over the years and about 10 volunteers who helped with the classes. Volunteers also helped McDougall gather the supplies, and ship them using RVs.

“A lot of people leave clothes, and that can be helpful, but it doesn’t give them a skill and what these ladies have achieved is a skill that is marketable,” she said, adding they have access to the internet and use social media sites like Pinterest.

“I found out very quickly that you cannot instill or expect our own Canadian values and measuring tools for performance from Canada to Mexico. It’s a different culture, a different climate. Many of them come from housing conditions we would be appalled at.”

At the end of the lessons, McDougall gives out a symbolic certificate and holds a fashion show at the hotel as a way for the women to sell their creations.

“That was the serapes that they made the first year and they had to have something to model… they did placemats and table clothes and I had a stash of fabric,” she said. “We’re trying to teach them marketing skills, because it’s not just making something, it’s getting them to market.”

However, this year, McDougall is winding down. She said it’s getting harder to ship the machines to Mexico. She used her connections with the RV community, but that form of vacation isn’t as popular anymore, she said.

But she’s still taking donations for her next trip in January. Sewing machines must be in good working order and fabric must not be dated.

To contact McDougall email her at cmcdougall954@gmail.com.

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carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

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