Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Pins and Needles

The title of this post "On Pins and Needles" can be interpreted as: a) An essay about pins and needles', or b) An expression meaning 'to be very excited or tense about something'. Actually, it's meant to be both. 

For the last 6 months or so, I've known that I was going to teach sewing in Cambodia again.  It's been an exciting time, planning what projects I might do, and gathering up all sorts of fabric, needles, yarn, embroidery floss and thread.  Thanks to the generous donation of supplies by my Mom and my sister-in-law, added to my own stockpiles, and a donation of mini cross-stitch kits from DMC Threads, I was able to amass enough resources to fill a giant suitcase.  When we arrived here, I couldn't wait to get going!  Exciting!

In a previous blog, I wrote about how I ended up 'volunteering' to make skirts for 14 little girls shortly after we arrived.  Tense? Oh yes, I had my tense moments....  For one, I was very worried that the stretch fabric would be difficult to work with.  (Not as bad as I expected, after I figured out what pins and needles to use!).  Even more scary was trying to work with a huge audience....sometimes as many as ten children hovering over my shoulder at once.  They were curious, and had me in panic mode a few times when I would glimpse them out of the corner of my eye poking their fingers in and around moving parts, picking up scissors, needles and pins.  They would sit closely, and try to 'help' by tugging the fabric along, often faster than I could feed it through the machine, and sometimes dangerously close to the sewing machine needle that whirred up and down with lightning speed.  They would pull the unsewn cut lengths out of my bag, (rearranging my work schedule), and argue among themselves as to which fabric belonged to which girl.  It was not the best environment to work in, but somehow all those skirts got made, and I even managed to teach some children a few things, while making sure that everybody (including me) ended up with ten fingers intact.

Busy at the treadle machine.
Sometimes I got to sew alone....

But more often than not, I had company.

This young boy sat and watched for a long time. 
A safe job for him was to hand me the pins.
There are a lot of tailors in Cambodia....
Perhaps he is a tailor-in-the-making?

Up till now, getting the sewing classes up and running has been slow.  There have been holidays and parties and game days.  We've had a change in the volunteers as well as some taking vacation.  The children already have a full schedure with ongoing English classes, dance classes, and (recently added) a football practice. Part of the mix are village children that come and go, and may not attend regularly.  Trying to establish which days I will teach, (and which children) has been a bit confusing.  Most of all, I don't want to barge in and take over, or demand that MY classes need to get done, so I've been doing some investigating, getting  some great input from Susan and Chhunly.  I think we're almost there.

Last Friday, I decided to try a simple project just to get a few kids interested in sewing - a bracelet made with plastic canvas and yarn, using a large blunt needle.  It was easy enough for the younger children and interesting enough for the older ones.  However, the one thing I didn't count on was chaos.... everyone wanting attention at the same time, and not everyone at the same ability to understand instructions or at the same skill level.  It took a big effort to ensure that all the needles were returned, since this type of needle is not easily found here.  Fortunately, on Friday I had a LOT of helpers (a big thanks to each and every one of them!).  I taught three separate classes.  The kids loved it, and I felt quite satisfied with the success of our first attempt. 

Let me show you how....

An intense onlooker

Help from Alice

Am I doing this the right way??

Enjoying the project

Busy, busy

Serious concentration

Look what I made!

Proud of his results!

Friday was a real success!  Saturday was a different story.  That morning I tried to teach a class on my own.  Instead of two separate classes like the previous day, everyone came at once, and I had more than thirty eager students.  Even the Khmer staff wanted to learn.  I felt like I was being torn in pieces, everyone wanting to get their supplies first, everyone wanting my attention at once, and only one of me to instruct and hand out materials.  Fortunately for my frazzled nerves, the afternoon class was a lot smaller, with older children and much more manageable.  What a learning opportunity for me!  I'd taught sewing classes two years ago which were fairly large in size, but they had been older children.  Those classes had run smoothly (with a translator), even though I spoke no Khmer.   Saturday's experience made me realize that I need to restrict the class size, limit instruction to the older children (8 yrs and up?), and ensure that there are fixed guidelines in place.  (It's either that, or get myself a straight-jacket LOL!)
So this week we will start over.  I'm going to try a new approach, and I'm betting it will work just fine.  One thing I've discovered is that every time I teach something, I'm the one who ends up learning the most!  So once again, I'm on pins and needles, anxious to discover whether this new line of attack will be more successful! 

This requires some serious meditation


1 comment:

  1. Great article! Isn't it funny that when we set out to teach someone something the person who ends up learning the most if most often ourselves.