It is a Monday in August. We are welcomed into Furaha Muana’s home by her daughter. We step over colourful building blocks spilling out of a bag into the entry way and into a lounge which currently serves as a family room and her atelier. We soon meet the owner of the building blocks who runs in and introduces himself with great pride as Abed.
On a well-worn couch we sit patiently for Furaha who soon descends the stairs like a queen. Her outfit is one of her own designs. The fit is perfect, her hair ordained with a headwrap matching her two-piece. “Does this look okay?” she asks, but she already knows the answer. Her smile gives away the pride she has for her work and her ability to look so meticulous all of the time. Before anything further can be said, Furaha rushes back up the stairs and back down wearing heals that match her outfit.
Furaha, 39, is a single mother of 3. Her daughter is 19 years old, her first son who is 16 years old is differently abled and her last born is 5 years old. Furaha is petite and strong and has a stoic air about her.
We decide to conduct our interview outside and take our seats in her backyard. Furaha comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, her home she had to leave because of war and lack of opportunities in 2010. “With no husband and children to look after, if you get the opportunity to move and try and find a better life, you take the chance,” she says while shooing young Abed back into the house to play with his toys.
After braving the tough grind of the concrete jungle that is Johannesburg for six years, Furaha moved to Durban. Her move to Durban was due to circumstances beyond her control. Furaha lost everything during a period of heavy xenophobic attacks, her landlord locked her out and she could not retrieve a single thing from her old home. “No one was born with anything so I let it go and moved on,” she says emphatically. Furaha stayed awhile in Yeoville in Central Johannesburg for a time before her move to Durban.
“Sewing is my life,” says Furaha who started sewing at the age of 16. Furaha who had lost everything had one sewing machine that she was able to hold onto. “I won’t complain, my machine has helped me small small to make a living and look after my children until I met sister Shahnaaz who promised me that she will try to help me, and she did.” Shahnaaz is the CEO of Penny Appeal, South Africa.
“Many people have helped me but she took her time to come and visit me and see where I was living with my children. Many times, I thought of giving up but she encouraged me.”
An immigrant from DRC, Furaha has always been plugged in to understanding people from everywhere and could tell that there was a certain sincerity to the inquiries and process at Penny Appeal.
Within a short time, Penny Appeal was able to raise the funds needed to purchase an industrial sewing machine as well as an industrial over locker for Furaha. “Before I had to go and see other seamstresses and pay them to use their machines to do jobs that mine couldn’t. but now my life has changed,” she beams. Furaha is most inspired in fabric shops and is always drawn to bold colours and patterns. “When I see and feel a fabric I get ideas immediately. It gets me excited to create something.”
Furaha’s biggest challenge is her 16-year-old son who goes to a special needs school. “He was doing so well but we might need to make a plan to go to Johannesburg to see his doctors again. That is the only thing that worries me,” she says with a brave smile, “I can’t give up. “
On Penny Appeal, Furaha says. “They are trying their best to assist everyone. Everyone must consider giving, it comes with reward.” Penny Appeal is an NGO that looks to empower and transform communities and individuals so that they are able to sustain themselves with dignity. CEO of Penny Appeal SA, Shahnaaz Paruk said that turning a blind eye to the dream and effort of someone is never an option, and not helping to empower communities and individuals was not the Penny Appeal way. “Transformations are not about the big things, sometimes it’s just as our motto says: taking small change to make a BIG difference. For people like Furaha who take those first steps, and try so hard – we want for their dreams to be realised, and for them to live their life with dignity and being self -sustainable.”
Furaha who loves to make herself beautifully designed outfits that she wears when she goes out, in showcase of her skills to attract new clientele says her goal for the next 5 years is to set up shop outside of her home, sell fabrics and ready to wear items as well as make bespoke garments for clients. Furaha’s biggest dream is to work with her daughter, who she has taught how to sew. “Penny Appeal has given me two machines, making that dream come true.” A skill handed down from one generation to another is special. Her daughter peeps outside to see what is going on and I get a glimpse of how the tale of these two generations will unfold. In Sha Allah. (God Willing)