Sewing a Better Future in Belize

Jeime Martinez remembers watching her grandmother sew buttons on shirts when she was a little girl in Guatemala. It’s a happy memory for her, but life has been hard since she returned to her native Belize.

She dropped out of school freshman year and has struggled to make ends meet. Now she has a family. Jeime, her husband and her two children rent a room off a dirt road in the Mahogany Extension area in Belize City, an area plagued by gang activity. Aside from an armchair and a bible, Jeime has few furnishings or possessions. Most of them are sewing supplies: an iron, a pair of scissors, a few spools of thread. 

For the past few years, Jeime has been working as a seamstress in a tailor shop in downtown Belize City, but the pay is low. She has dreamed of opening her own business. After completing a two-year course in sewing at the local YWCA, Jeime enrolled in PADF’s 15-month Youth Engagement Services program. Funded by the U.S. Embassy in Belize, the program provided her with training in life skills, business management and networking opportunities. 

"Now I feel more mature about the business," she says.

She proudly displays the products of her labor, a pair of pants for her son, a smocked red dress, school uniforms, and a fashionable flared skirt that she models. Under better circumstances she'd be on Project Runway. She needed a sewing machine and a workspace with a chair. She used a manual foot-crank machine for years, until it broke.

As part of the program, Jeime crafted a business plan and presented it to the committee, which granted her over $900 in seed funding. She now has a brand new electric sewing machine. When her business, Jeime’s Modas, gets going, she wants to volunteer and give back, teaching high school dropouts how to sew and mentoring other young entrepreneurs.

Every day Jeime walks almost mile to the main road to catch the bus to take her two small children to school. Her husband isn’t working right now. 

"We’re in a hard situation," she says. “My sewing business has helped us a lot. If I hadn’t got the funds from PADF, I wouldn’t have gotten my business going forward.”