Empowerment

Fashion show shines spotlight on malaria in Nigeria

Clothes made by women in the African country worn on catwalk in Cherry Brook

Handmade designs by Nigerian single mothers featured in local fashion show
Handmade designs by Nigerian single mothers featured in local fashion show.   Ben Jamieson

Empowerment and humanitarian work were the hot fashion trends Friday night at New Beginnings Ministries in Cherry Brook.

Models strutted up and down the aisle of the church wearing clothes made by single mothers in Nigeria.

It’s all part of an initiative started by Challenge Aids and Malaria in Africa, a local humanitarian organization. CHAMA trains single mothers in the rural province of Ohafia in the southeastern region of Nigeria to become seamstresses.

The fashion show served as the opening ceremony for the Selah Women’s EmpowerU Day Conference happening at New Beginnings Ministries on Saturday. The conference will discuss empowering women through faith-based teachings and workshops.

Members of the congregation and community modeled the different handmade designs created by the graduates of CHAMA’s first year of sewing school.

Olugu Ukpai, CEO and founder of CHAMA, believes malaria can be combated through empowerment and economics. Empowering these women with education and a job is just one step towards his goal.

“Malaria is a poverty disease,” he said, “so in order to fight malaria we need to tackle the root cause of the problem, which is poverty.”

He said the women are trained in sewing and then receive sewing machines once they graduate so they can make money and support themselves.

The clothes made by the women in Nigeria were sold after the fashion show. All of the proceeds go to CHAMA and the women back in Nigeria.

Members of the community bought some of the clothes after the show
Members of the community trying on the CHAMA clothes.   Ben Jamieson

Kirby Spivey, pastor of New Beginnings Ministries, was happy to help CHAMA and support a cause that’s personal for him.

“In 2000 I went to Kenya, was there for 12 weeks and right around Week 8 I contracted malaria and it wiped me out for a week,” he said. “This is a way to bring awareness to malaria and a way that we can practically support the cause.”

Pastor Kirby Spivey, of New Beginnings Ministries (left) and Olugu Ukpai founder of CHAMA
Pastor Kirby Spivey, of New Beginnings Ministries (left) and Olugu Ukpai founder of CHAMA.   Ben Jamieson

Ukpai’s story

Ukpai started CHAMA out of tragedy.

In 2005 he was completing his master’s of international development studies at Dalhousie University, while trying to bring his family to Canada from Nigeria. For three years his family was refused Canadian visas.

“During this period of separation one of my twin girls back in Nigeria got sick. Her name was Goodness. Because of the poor health-care system we lost her unnecessarily to malaria,” he said.

After the death of his daughter, Ukpai was “broken.” His eyes filled with tears as he recounted the pain of losing Goodness. Yet through his tragedy and sorrow, Ukpai found the strength to help others.

“I had to declare war on malaria,” he said. “I used my personal savings, my credit card, and I travelled back to my rural community in Nigeria. I had 15 medical doctors locally. We treated over 500 children with malaria and tropical diseases.”

Now nearly a decade later, Ukpai and CHAMA are still trying to make positive change in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

In 2015, the first 15 women graduated from the program and there are more than 35 expected to begin training soon.

CHAMA needs to raise funds to help support this influx in students. On top of tuition costs there is also a plan to build a warehouse so the women have more space to work, while in school and after graduation. The cost to build a warehouse is $10,000.