Broken sewing machine, chewing gum, & the Patron Saint of Practical Necessity

In July of 2005, a team of 3 friends brought donated sewing machines to our HARAMBEE groups in Kenya.  At Mukuru, we unpacked a machine and plugged it in.  Everyone was excited, as this would expand productivity to include many more items:  uniforms for local school children, Massai dolls, linings or woven purses.

Cecilia had been a skilled seamstress before being widowed by HIV and forced to live in Mukuru slum.  She smiled and set to work immediately.  But the machine wouldn't run, and we were all disappointed.  A lever on the front was jammed & wouldn't budge.  I couldn't believe we had carried this valuable machine 8,000 miles ony to be defeated by a tiny piece of bent metal.  My colleague Terri noted lots of screws on the sewing machine head.  She suggested we try to remove the head to see if the gears were misaligned, not physically broken.  Hope!  So I whipped out my Swiss Army knife, started loosening screws, and cautioned Terri to keep track of every one.  We were getting closer:  I could now see the gears, and indeed, if I could get in there, I thought I could re-allign them.  However--a single, final screw was embedded deep inside.  I could loosen it, but couldn't gain purchase to get it out.

Crestfallen again.  I thought "Hm.  What would Jesus do?"  That got me nowhere.  Then "What would Martha Stewart do?"  Not much better than Jesus.  Then "What would my mom do?"  (Are mothers defeated--ever--by lack of anything? In any jam, hands down, I'd ask for Mom before Jesus.  Jesus can help you overcome or endure, but my mother trumps all as patron saint of practical necessities.)

I knew exactly what she would do.

Terri had been chewing Wrigley's EXTRA gum to clear her ears on our transatlantic flight.  "Terri, do you have any gum left?"  "Yup, two sticks."  "Well, start chewing.  I think I've got an answer."

Our only hope.  She chomped & handed oveer a damp wad.

The HARAMBEE women looked at each other, and us, skeptically.  Two muzungus who've been in the sun too long...

But I smiled at them and rolled the gum into a long thin strip, then threaded it deep into the sewing machine. It stuck to the screw head and VOILA!  Out came the final screw!  (Thanks, Mom!) Off came the cover & I snapped the exposed gears back into place.  So easy!  Top was replaced, final stick of EXTRA chewed, rolled, & used to set the last screw back in place.

We all exchanged high fives & cheered when the machine started right up.  The women set to work.  Within a week our industrious HARAMBEE women filled my suitcase with sewn items to take back for sale in the U.S.  They've been sewing ever since, saved from prostitution, earning cash to feed their children.  Their number has now doubled, the workshop prospering.

Wrigley's had saved the day.  I wrote to their offices in Chicago, and their plant in Kenya, hoping they'd find value in our story.  I hoped for some PR for HARAMBEE, or maybe a small donation....  No luck.  We've been ignored.  Next time we'll take Beeman's.