Sewing party in Bridgeville to empower girls in Zimbabwe

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Kathy Surma and Linda Ambroso are on a mission to make sure girls in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to sanitary products.

“Girls miss school because of lack of protection,” during menstrual periods, said Ms. Surma, who lives in Bridgeville. She added, “It’s such a basic thing for a girl to be able to go to school. It’s something so small, but so important.”

The calling to help girls in Zimbabwe came few years ago when Ms. Surma watched a documentary titled “Tapestries of Hope.” The film tells the story of Betty Makoni of Zimbabwe, who overcame being raped as a child. She went on to become the founder of Girl Child Network, an organization that helps to empower young girls. Ms. Makoni also started “empowerment villages” in Zimbabwe that encourage girls to overcome abuse they may have suffered.

Ms. Surma and Ms. Ambroso, of Upper St. Clair, are hosting a sewing party Sept. 21 to cut fabric for the “girl empowerment pads” so the girls can learn to sew the pads themselves.

Ms. Surma has taken several trips to Zimbabwe and has plans to go back in October with the intent to deliver fabric to the orphanages there so the girls can make their own reusable sanitary pads.

“We’ll take any fabric we can get our hands on,” Ms. Surma said.

She has the opportunity to go back to Zimbabwe through the Nyadire Connection, a non-profit organization based at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park. The organization seeks to support and sustain the Nyadire United Methodist Mission in rural Zimbabwe. According to its website, the Nyadire Mission offers a hospital, a school system ranging from preschool to high school, an orphanage, a farm and other services to the surrounding community.

The Nyadire Connection has also helped to ship samples of “girl empowerment pads,” fabric and a sewing machine to Zimbabwe.

The pads are made of the fabric and filled with cotton batting and have straps that the girls can tie or attach to their undergarments with Velcro. Although they are reusable, the pads last only about three months, Ms. Surma said, so the girls need to sew several.

At the sewing party, Ms. Surma said the main focus will be to cut fabric, but they will also make a few sample pads so the girls in Zimbabwe can get an idea of how to do it.

The eventual goal is to have the girls sew pads at the Nyadire Mission clinic to make them available for women there. Ms. Surma said in October she would like to set up some points of contact to make that a reality.

“If we get that, we can work with other more remote schools,” Ms. Surma said.

“We want to see if it can go beyond the orphanages,” Ms. Ambroso said. She added that in the region of Zimbabwe, girls in the orphanages are actually better off than other girls because they have access to food and regular medical care.

“There are just so many girls to help,” Ms. Ambroso said.

Ms. Surma and Ms. Ambroso add that it’s not just young girls who need the reusable pads, but virtually all women in the region.

Ms. Ambroso said many expectant mothers come to the hospital in Nyadire weeks before they give birth, just so they are able to have their baby in a hospital. She said eventually she would like to have the women sew their own pads while they are waiting to give birth so they have them after their baby is born.

Making sure the women and girls in Zimbabwe know how to sew their own pads is important to Ms. Surma and Ms. Ambroso.

“If they can do it themselves, it’s sustainable. It’s not just a one-shot deal,” Ms. Ambroso said, adding, “This project is just in the early stages.”

Ms. Surma agreed, adding, “There’s a lot of potential for this to grow,” Ms. Surma said.

The sewing party is open to the public will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 21 at Ms. Surma’s home in Bridgeville. Refreshments will be served.

While samples of the pads will be made, the party will consist mostly of cutting fabric for the girls in Zimbabwe to sew. No sewing experience is needed. Those planning to attend should bring a pair of scissors. Ms. Surma added that the girls and women in Zimbabwe are also in need of new undergarments in adult and children’s sizes, so a donation is appreciated.

To RSVP for the party, call Ms. Surma at 412-477-2173 or email

Further information on the Nyadire Connection organization can be found at

Deana Carpenter, freelance writer:

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