Spirit of Arkansas in Africa - Part 2: The gift that saves lives

NAIROBI, Kenya (KATV) - Anna Taylor is from Little Rock. But she spends most of her time on the other side of the world in Nairobi, Kenya.

The 22-year-old's mission is to empower women like Damaris Awino.

"If it is supper, I try maximum 100 or 50 because something which I can afford," Damaris said, explaining how much it costs to feed her family each day. It is usually less than $1.00.

She and her two children share an apartment just outside Nairobi, Kenya's Mathare slum. It's about 10 feet deep and 10 feet wide, with one bed and two small couches. They don't have running water or a kitchen. There's a community toilet in the courtyard.

They have it better than most.

Nairobi is home to more than 3 million people. Many of them are widows of war, AIDS and hunger.

The lucky ones find jobs selling produce or washing clothes. Even better, they find Anna.

"I know they're trying their best to provide for their children but there are limited resources and limited opportunities here," explained Anna. "I want to create a life for them. I want to give them a chance to not go to bed hungry and to not wake up thinking, 'How am I going to get dinner tonight?'"

Anna moved from Little Rock to Nairobi when she was just 19 years old to start a sewing school for widows.

"I wanted to go from the ground up and take widows who had zero skills and zero opportunities for work and give them training and put them on their own two feet so that they're set up for employment here in Kenya," Anna said.

"When I was invited [to the school], I just said, 'God, thank You, because You've really answered my prayers'," recalled Kesia Atieno, a graduate of the sewing school.

There are two parts: James 1:27 is a non-profit that raises money to fund the training program; fashion line Judith and James provides work opportunities after they graduate.

"I want to help people with provision. I mean they don't have resources, they don't have opportunities," Anna explained. "We have so much resource in the United States and I know so many people who love to shop and buy products."

Damaris and Cassia were two of 16 women who graduated from the sewing program in July, wearing caps and gowns donated by Little Rock Christian Academy where Anna went to school.

While Anna works tirelessly to build and promote the new clothing line to provide work for the women, they still have to survive each day.

"After graduation, God helped me and now I'm doing some small jobs," Kesia said, adding she is grateful to sew clothes in a nearby market.

But without their own machines, work for the women is limited.

Shortly after we returned from Africa, prayers were answered. Damaris, Kesia, and all of the sewing program graduates were presented with their own machines.

"It was a just a miracle, another miracle happening in my life," Kesia said. "Now I'm going to do something that I'm now trained to do, and I really love it. I love making dresses."

"In the United States, if you're given a gift, it doesn't save your life. But they can actually make a living from this one item," Anna said. "It's amazing that you can save lives just from a needle and thread or a treadle sewing machine."

Click here to see the first part of the "Spirit of Arkansas in Africa" series.Click here to learn more about Anna's clothing line Judith & James and the non-profit James 127.