Our Stories

“My past doesn’t define who I am today.”

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She sits across from Hayley and I every other Tuesday night, as we share a meal during the EnCompass mentoring program and catch-up on life. You can bet we’ll go back for seconds, sometimes thirds, and we always save room for dessert. She usually keeps quiet when everyone shares their “highs and lows;” she’s not one to draw attention to herself in a group. We keep our phones off during our time together, but sometimes her screensaver lights up and I see the familiar picture of her and her son, Axel, as she snuggles him close.

Amanda was introduced to drugs at a time most girls were studying for a fifth-grade English test or coming home from dance class. “Family,” she said, “and cousins.” More than that, she doesn’t say.

She was one of three children - now, she’s one of two. Four years ago, her sister passed away, and this only deepened her addiction. Six months after her sister’s funeral, she found herself staring at a close friend’s casket, another victim to overdose. She realized she was staring at her future.

For five weeks, she called the rehab center every day.

She was persistent in seeking help, “I wanted it. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was tired of living that life.”

When they had an opening, she joined the one-and-a-half year program.

“The hardest thing about rehab,” she said, “Was not doing what I wanted to do. I had a problem with authority. Yes, I do think it humbled me. I realized there are guidelines for a reason. I still live by those rules that I learned.”

She met her close friend Jessica in rehab. “I thought she was funny,” Amanda said. She laughs so hard as she tells us a story about Jessica, who one day decided to wear sunglasses, despite the leaders telling her to take them off. Finally, she removed them and started stomping on them, yelling, “If I can’t have them, no one can!”

When Amanda moved out of rehab she had a difficult time finding a safe place to live. At the first location, men would proposition her as she walked to the bus stop. She stayed here for three months before relocating. Her second location was better, but it forced her to be out of the house during the day and took her cell phone. She didn’t have a job so she would go from bus stop to bus stop, filling time.

When she was accepted into Amethyst Place, they provided her with resources to get a job and start school. When she even moved into one of their fully-furnished apartments, she was given the beautiful gift of privacy. “I had my own space, my own apartment, just for Axel and I,” she said.

Amanda has since graduated with her GED, and is pursuing a nursing program with Penn Valley. She is looking forward to pursuing sewing to help support her during the meantime. “I like the people, and I like learning on the machines.”

By Grace sponsored the costs for Amanda to learn at the MADI Makes seamstress program, started by non-profit MADI Donations in partnership with Hope Faith Ministries. Once Amanda graduates the MADI Makes program, she’ll be offered a job sewing for MADI Apparel, founded by Hayley Besheer Santell.

Hayley says, “Our goal is to be flexible. If the women need to pick up their kids or take them to school, they can do that. We want them to be able to use the money they earn to save up for their next big step - whether that’s a new apartment, childcare or something else that betters their life.”

Amanda says that one day she dreams of owning a house, having a good job and most of all - being financially stable. She says she wants Axel to be in a good school, and to set him up for a lifestyle that keeps him away from the things she was exposed to at such a young age.

Amanda is a mom of six, although Axel is the only child that remains in her care. He is the only child she gave birth to in sobriety. The other five were removed from her care as a result of addiction.

“My past doesn’t define who I am today,” she said, as sadness starts to well in her eyes. She says these words boldly, filling the room with her strength. “What gives me hope is that one day, my kids will come looking for me, and I can be something they would be proud of.”

Amanda with her first completed garment!

Amanda with her first completed garment!

Images of the impact  MADI Apparel  has made with their impactful intimates line and through their non-profit arm MADI Donations. MADI donates a pair of intimates for every item sold, as these are the most under-donated items at homeless shelters. MADI donates in the U.S. and abroad.

Images of the impact MADI Apparel has made with their impactful intimates line and through their non-profit arm MADI Donations. MADI donates a pair of intimates for every item sold, as these are the most under-donated items at homeless shelters. MADI donates in the U.S. and abroad.

The women learn to cut fabric, sew on an industrial machine and finish with a serger.

The women learn to cut fabric, sew on an industrial machine and finish with a serger.

Miranda instructing the MADI Makes class at Hope Faith Ministries.

Miranda instructing the MADI Makes class at Hope Faith Ministries.

Hayley and I at the MADI Makes program!

Hayley and I at the MADI Makes program!

Hayley, Andrescia and I at the MADI Makes seamstress program at Hope Faith Ministries. Andrescia is a recent graduate of the MADI Makes program.

Hayley, Andrescia and I at the MADI Makes seamstress program at Hope Faith Ministries. Andrescia is a recent graduate of the MADI Makes program.

"If I can sew well, I can get money to support my family."

Fatima is an apprentice at By Grace Ghana. She's shown here with her best friend, also an apprentice.

Fatima is an apprentice at By Grace Ghana. She's shown here with her best friend, also an apprentice.

She was shy at first, when I first met her. By the end of my stay, she’d come running down the hot, sandy hill to meet me, throwing her arms around me in a huge hug.

I’d seen her picture, reviewed her application. No longer a face in my Gmail inbox, she was real – a real person with dreams and a family and a super adorable personality. She was so beautiful; her eyes were so kind.

Her cheeks were marked with two slash marks, characteristic of rural tribes. Just now, in 2017, they started to outlaw this practice of marring the faces of their babies.

Why did she apply for this training with By Grace? "If I can sew well,” she said, “I can get money to support my family."

I learned that the parents of many of these girls, including Fatima, were petty traders. They couldn’t afford to pay for their daughters to learn a trade like sewing. Fatima used to have to sell porridge to make money. Now, she was learning a dignified profession. Thanks to the gift of a By Grace donor.

Some small snippets of the interview with her are below:

What is your favorite part about living in Tamale?

So far I like it because I've found work - I came here because of the opportunity. 

What's your favorite memory with your family?

I enjoyed my sister's wedding. When she got married, I was very happy!

What is your favorite subject to study in school?

I like math. When they taught me this, I could calculate well.

What was your first job? 

I sold porridge. 

Why did you first want to learn how to sew?

I want to use it to help in the future.  This work will help me make money and sew my family's things.

Do you have a role model?

My mom inspires me. She helped me a lot and gave good advice.

What's your favorite proverb?

In Dagbani, it means, "If a town is far, there is another town that is farther." To me, this means that if you know something, someone knows more. 

What would you like to say to the person that paid for your apprenticeship?

“God bless that person.”

"I work to pay my two boys' expensive school fees."

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When I first saw her, she averted her eyes. But as she looked down she smiled. In her smile there were clearly stories. As I went to introduce myself, she slowly raised her head to make eye contact. When I introduced myself she replied meekly but in perfect English, “My name is Rosamund.” She hugged me quickly, then scurried off to attend to her work.

While visiting our partners at Lions in Four, Rosamund served as our translator and guide. However, when she wasn’t serving as our ears and mouthpiece, she flitted about the workshop, the kitchen and the grounds—always looking for something to do. Rosamund is by far the hardest worker I’ve ever observed. When I asked her why she never took a break, she told me it is because she likes to work hard. She is a mother to two and she told us that she “work[s] to pay [her] two boys' expensive school fees to give them a better life.” Her heart is in the right place and it is so obvious in her actions.

The Lions workshop is run by Sister V, and when she came into the room, Rosamund seemed to breathe for the first time all day. She stood a little straighter and set about her tasks with a newfound ease. When we later asked her if she likes sewing, Rosamund told us: “I do, but I am not too sure of it. It is new to me. But with Sister V here, Sister V gives us our confidence.”

Not sure about you, but I’d really like to be Sister V. That is the absolute best Yelp review I’ve ever heard. But something about her comment stung me. Rosamund’s comfort wasn’t from within. She did not seem to acknowledge the incredible woman she was, without the assistance or affirmation from someone whom she considers to be superior. That’s one of the goals of By Grace though, to mentor these women, to provide them with opportunities that dignify them; to help them believe in themselves as strong, independent, fully capable, talented women.

Rosamund is the reason we do what she do. Her work ethic inspires me, and I hope to inspire her to love and trust in herself and her abilities.

 

Learn more about Rosamund's story below: 

What is your favorite color?

I really like white and black. They are my favorite colors.

 

What is your birthday?

September 7, 1976

 

What is your favorite Bible verse?

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you always.”

 

Why do you love that one?

Sometimes we are really afraid to go somewhere or do something. Before I go anywhere, I read the Bible and then I go. Then I am not afraid. It strengthens me.

 

How long have you worked here?

I have worked here 2 months. Before this I worked at an orphanage adoption center as a social worker.

 

When did you learn to sew?

I have never worked in tailoring before, but I started to learn when I got here. I learned from Manjula and her sister.

 

Do you enjoy working here?

Yes! Everyone is very nice to interact with

 

Is finding a good job difficult?

Yes of course

 

Do you have kids?

Yes! My husband is a farmer and I have two children. Both are boys. The first one is in 12th grade and the second is 8th grade. They are in higher education.

 

Are their school fees expensive?

Yes. After 12th grade they go to college.

 

Does your work here pay for the school fees?

Yes. I want to see my children in a good job.

 

What do your kids want to be?

One son wants to go to the Army. After 12th grade he will go to National Defense Academy. After that he will go to the Army.

 

What was it like to grow up in India?

I think India now has more job opportunities. You don’t have to just farm. There is much more movement between states too because of work. India is growing.

 

Do many women work?

Yes, most women now go to work. It’s better for their family if both the father and the mother work. If only one parent is working, it’s not enough to afford education and basic needs. Kids go to school, so if the mom stays at home much time is wasted.

 

What do you do in your free time?

I don’t have free time. I come to work and then I go home and have two children. 

"My children are able to go to schools."

Lamisi is pictured left. She leads our By Grace Ghana apprentices.

Lamisi is pictured left. She leads our By Grace Ghana apprentices.

Name: Lamisi Amoak

Age:39

Were you born in Tamale? I was born in Fumbisi. I moved to Tamale five years ago because my husband works here. 

Tell us about your family.

  • Are you married? I married Monday in 1995.
  • Do you have children? We have three children: Deborah, David and Damaris.

What is your favorite memory with your family? My wedding is a favorite memory and I love how my husband takes care of me. He is very hardworking.

Did you go to school? I went to school until Primary 6 (fifth or sixth grade)

What was your first job? I first sold bowls and glasses. I would get goods all the way from Accra or Koforidua.

How long have you been sewing? I have been sewing for 24 years.

Why did you first learn how to sew? When I was younger, I didn’t like to sit. My mom asked me to try it because she didn’t like her daughter traveling such far ways on accident prone roads to buy and sell things. So, I tried it and enjoyed it. 

What do you enjoy most about sewing? I delight in working. I don’t like to be idle and since I am good at it…well, do it. 

Has working with By Grace helped you and your family? Working with By Grace has helped me be able to look after my family. It is consistent work that pays. It has improved our state of living. We were even able to buy a plot of land to put a building on. My children are able to go to schools. 

What is your favorite quote, Bible verse or proverb? John 3.16. I like it because it reminds me that I am loved. I am included.

My favorite proverb is "small, small, as the monkey goes higher, you will catch his tail." Meaning— going to greater heights, there is nothing he can’t do. 

Do you have any prayer requests or praise reports? I pray that I can continue to work so that we can put up a house on the new plot of land. I praise God for life and that I am healthy. 

What is your favorite song right now? The words say, "I will love God forever and ever…".

What brings you joy? God’s gift of life brings me joy. I am thankful I have strength day after day. Some people have money but are not happy. I have small, small but am happy. I am thankful for the health God has given me.