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NL Makers Repairing Old Sewing Machines to benefit refugees

NL Makers Repairing Old Sewing Machines:

Revived & Reused for Refugees’ Economic Prospects, for Women’s Health, and for the Environment

Article by MakerSchool English 7th-12th Grade Class

Interview of Isaac Zama and Kathy McCabe conducted by MakerSchool English 7th-12th Grade Class

Edited by Melanie Cameron

Nova Labs Makers are making with a purpose! Sewing machines destined for landfills are given new life, and women who have lost their homes and livelihoods are being given an empowering purpose: improving all the lives of women in their refugee community.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cameroon, now living in Nigeria, face life displaced and uncertain. Due to years of civil war in Cameroon, violence has caused hundreds of thousands fleeing to Nigeria, who are now living in refugee camps. Isaac Zama, who has been working to help these refugees in many ways, connected to Nova Labs’ own Brian Jacoby and Kathy McCabe. Brian Jacoby gave Isaac Zama used sewing machines as a way to solve a trifecta of health, social, and environmental concerns: #1 - in order to save the machines from landfills, Nova Labs members are repairing old, discarded sewing machines and giving them a renewed purpose, #2 - these machines are being sent to Nigeria to refugees who are learning a skill and starting microbusinesses, which improves their economic futures, and #3 – the need for washable feminine pads among these refugees – who have left everything behind – is an immediate and basic women’s health need which the availability of working sewing machines, thread, fabric, and a simple sewing pattern makes possible.

So far, 50 refugees will receive training to use these sewing machines and acquire the empowering skill of sewing in order to start a microbusiness. Once a machine arrives in the refugee camps, the task of sewing hundreds upon hundreds of reusable and washable feminine pads begins. There are 30,000-40,000 women who do not have necessary feminine hygiene products and would greatly benefit from these simple pattern reusable pads. The washable and reusable aspect also makes this a sustainability effort, which helps the environment. Immediately, these refugee communities are empowering their women to meet basic health hygiene needs, and the bigger picture involves the ability of women to stay within their community and learn to sew; they can earn income, avoid travel, and work for their more stable future, all while fulfilling an immediate women’s health need.

We Need You: How Nova Labs Members and Friends Can Help

Currently, Nova Labs has donated 4 traditional sewing machines and If any one wishes to donate, especially any industrial sewing machines, please contact Kathy McCabe who is inspecting potential machine donations and working with Nova Labs and others who are repairing the machines to working order. Other donations including tight woven cotton, thread, bobbins, etc. are most welcome.

MakerSchool Impact

The Nova Labs MakerSchool English Class examined the systems and needs among the refugee community, the systems and capabilities of the Nova Labs community, and the shipping container systems and available extra capacities to which Isaac Zama is connected that will allow a global effort to come together to achieve some real-world Maker impacts. Through Maker-Centered Instruction, MakerSchool English students have explored global, national, and local systems, people connecting these systems, processes and parts involved in these systems, so this real world example of Makers connecting across the globe really drives home an instructional goal in our school.

MakerSchool combines accredited educational standards within a framework of Maker-centered instruction combined with STEM-heavy learning environments. This is a dream learning opportunity. For those interested in enrolling their students in the MakerSchool for the 2021/22 academic year, they may send an email to

Cover photo "Sewing Machine on Table" by dejankrsmanovic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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1 Comment

Darci Niestroy
Darci Niestroy
Jun 26, 2021

Are you still accepting sewing machine donations? I could not locate contact information for Kathy McCabe. Could you post here? Thanks!

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