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    Women empowerment through sewing and fashion design skills

    The Ntunga program has trained and mentored underprivileged women in the Kibuli slum since 2017 and in the Hoima district since 2021 through sewing and design vocational skills training; additional sites in Mukono and Karamoja aim to be established by 2023. Ntunga (“am sewing” in Luganda) allows women to increase their incomes, support their families, and invest in their children’s education. They learn to use a sewing machine, design different garments and products creatively, and develop and maintain a sustainable livelihood beyond the training period.


    Women’s livelihoods affect not only women but also their families and children. Failing family incomes often force children out of school and unto the streets, especially in underprivileged areas of Uganda. Rural-urban migration, school dropouts, child trafficking, and violence and neglect within families further contribute to the influx of children to streets and urban areas.

    In 2017, talented Ugandan art and design graduates founded the first Ntunga sewing center in the Kibuli slum to empower marginalized women and teenage girls whose children are prone to search for a better life on the streets. Strengthening those mothers in providing social and economic backing reduces the steady increase of street-connected children. The Kibuli center succeeded in providing sewing and design skills and creating a mutually supportive community. At the same time, it became clear that business partnerships and sales channels were crucial for translating vocational skills into sustainable livelihoods for participants and trainers. In 2021, a business partnership with SBI allowed CoCuDi Center and Streetlights Uganda to start the Ntunga women empowerment program in the Hoima district with its first pilot cohort. Business partnerships, a train-the-trainer methodology, and a strong focus on program graduates’ engagement have allowed Ntunga to reach its objectives and make a lasting impact on women’s livelihoods. Since opening the Hoima center in 2021, the program team has successfully overcome challenges such as excess training participants, limited resources, and interruptions due to COVID-19 lockdowns. They now seek to replicate the Ntunga model in other areas. Expanding the geographic scope by opening additional training sites in Mukono and Karamoja is a priority for 2023.

    Program details


    • Provide valuable work experience and income to young graduates from Ugandan design colleges and Ntunga graduates by offering trainer roles and stipends.
    • Create the occupational basis for additional incomes by providing sewing, design, and business skills to women cohorts from the local communities.
    • Empower the participating women in their personal and emotional development by fostering creativity, community, and livelihood opportunities.
    • Sustain small business entrepreneurship of Ntunga graduates by facilitating bulk orders and ongoing equipment use.
    • Reduce dependency on shops and individual customers by meeting educational and business needs such as providing locally made school and workers’ uniforms.
    • Support environmental sustainability by reusing textile materials for products and merchandise.

    Program components

    At the core of the Ntunga program lies a 6-months intensive course taught by leading local artists and designers from the Streetlights Uganda team. Participants acquire skills in tailoring, design, and business relations, work on independent projects, and receive mentorship. The course takes place in a classroom equipped with sewing machines and equipment that course participants can use for their independent work.

    Learning from other sewing initiatives and its Kibuli center, Ntunga strongly focuses on sustainable livelihoods beyond the training period. Specifically, graduates receive a graduation package, have ongoing access to classroom equipment outside training hours through their cohort representatives, and receive assistance in procuring high-quality materials. Most importantly, the Ntunga implementing partners work to secure bulk orders from business customers in the education and construction sectors.

    In consultation with community leadership, Hoima selects single mothers and women at risk of social exclusion to join their cohorts. Ntunga is a female-led program and deploys only women trainers, both to empower young female graduates from Ugandan design colleges who enter a competitive industry and to safeguard program participants.

    Additional safeguarding components are under development and will help retain participants and strengthen cohesion among them. The program team currently seeks a partner to assist with a curriculum for home visits, basic social work sessions during recruitment and towards graduation, as well as group sessions throughout the training period. Building on CoCuDi Center’s existing partnership with Makerere University, Kampala, integration into their social work program’s practice components is possible.

    Impact in 2021-2022

    • Two young Ugandan fashion design graduates gained valuable work experience and earned an additional income as the leading Ntunga trainers. Beyond that, four Ntunga program graduates are already actively involved in training the second cohort and add the Ntunga trainer stipend to their household income.
    • Despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, twenty women in the Hoima district community learned to sew well, nine of which were mothers. Eight participants perfected their skills and graduated as the first cohort in Hoima.
    • During the lockdown periods, more than 100 handmade masks were sold within the community, and 840 masks were supplied to SBI. Beyond that, graduates from the first cohort mastered the making of workers’ overalls and await the tender for bulk purchases.
    • Two cohort representatives were trained to make the sowing equipment available to graduates, many of whom continue to fashion various textile products for sale on-site, including various school uniforms.
    • The successes of the first cohort inspired many more women to join the program.