NIGERIA: Inside the Onne Women Vocational Centre

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Olawale Ajimotokan recently embarked on a facility tour of the Onne Free Trade Zone, where he saw a vocational centre designed for the training of women in the advanced art of sewing
In the heart of the Onne Free Trade Zone is the Women Empowerment Project Scheme (WEMS) operated by the port concessionaire, Orlean Invest West Africa. WEMS is an integrated programme where 300 community women are trained on skills acquisition, mainly on the advanced technology for sewing industrial safety gears for the company and the West African market.

The centre is fitted with top of the range machines and is priced as the only one of its kind in the country.

When THISDAY visited the centre, the women were divided into three batches of 100 each and were given a four-hour training session everyday. The centre has practical and training rooms that are equipped with industrial sewing and tailoring machines and a 52-stage production line. The industrial machines are known for their speed.

The current group started training on November 6 last year under the supervision of an Indian expatriate, Mr. Ashok Hasani, who guides them on the practical methods of sewing. Upon graduation at the end of this month, they will be employed by the company.

The women are mainly drawn from Onne, Ogu, Olobulo, and Port Harcourt, among other places.

The centre coordinator, Ernest Eze, said the centre was conceived by Orlean as a unique community social responsibility project to cater exclusively for women. According to Eze, the long term objective is to gradually increase the number of participants to 5,000 in the next five years and open the centre to women from other parts of the country.

The women are within the age group of 18 and 45 years and are paid daily transport allowances to attend the training. Eze said what Orlean paid every month as transport allowance amounted to over N8 million to the women under training.

“When they first came here, they were raw and knew absolutely nothing about sewing. But now they can handle industrial machines and make garments that comply with international specifications,” he said.

A participant at the scheme, Nancy Freeborn, said she was motivated to participate in the WEMS programme because of the orderly nature of the scheme and its gender sensitive nature.

Freeborn said she had learnt how to sew and make a full overall since she enrolled at the centre last year.

“It is a world class centre where they pay attention to details and the right standard; things that you can’t learn outside,’’ she said.

Other beneficiaries – Faith Ugboaja and Edith Israel – also shared their impressions about the centre. Ugboaja said she was initially discouraged by a friend when she heard about WEMS.  She expressed gratitude to Orlean for giving her hope and for the huge investment the group had made in her.

“They are empowering women. Before, we were just at home, doing practically nothing. Now we have achieved something and can help our parents. We can do anything we want without asking for assistance. I can also transfer the skills acquired to others. In the past, we used to take our clothes to others to over lock, but now we can over lock. I can sew very well. And not only that, I can handle the machine very well,” said Israel, who comes from the Ogu community.

Orlean West Africa is the operator of the Onne Port where its current investment is in excess of $6 billion. It is creating the platform for commercial activities for service providers operating in the Gulf of Guinea.

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