The Learning Lab Weaves Mother Empowerment into Stunning Creations


In a country where memes associate community mothers with marites culture, a pun on the phrase "mare, anu latest?" when neighbours catch up on each other with up-to-date news and communal gossip, we frequently overlook that if given the opportunity to thrive on something else, these same mothers can instead weave a different kind of narrative; one that is full of inspiration, empowerment, artistry and craftmanship.

Alyana Bromeo
Learning Lab founder Moha Barakat and the mother weavers

For Moha Barakat, the founder of the Learning Lab, it was the Marites in herself that got her becoming acquainted with the challenges faced by community mothers living in and around the Cubao neighborhood in Quezon City.

The Learning Lab founder Moha Barakat gives an update during the communal night

After engaging in conversations with several kumares (a term of endearment for Filipino women), Moha discovered that many Filipina women in their fifties and beyond have experienced a period of at least 20 years without employment or finding a means to sustain themselves after having children or starting a family. Worse in many cases, these women unfortunately become dependent on their spouses or partners, which made many of them vulnerable to domestic abuse.

The Learning Lab
mothers are now busy with sewing as their livelihood.

Thinking of ways to encourage mothers and other community kumares to regain their confidence and acquire new skills that will benefit them well into their senior years., Moha, a clothing designer, founded the Learning Lab.

What is the Learning Lab?

The Learning Lab was established earlier this year, commencing with a training and livelihood program at Better World Cubao in collaboration with AHA Learning Centre and San Miguel Foundation.

Some of the mothers model the tops they sewed at Learning Lab.

After carefully selecting applicants, primarily mothers aged 50 and above who demonstrated a strong desire to work and acquire new skills, the first batch of mothers began their journey of becoming a trained dressmaker.

The Learning Lab
With newfound skills, the mothers are now proud of their creations

A fundraising event was conducted in March 2023 to fund the training's tuition and acquisition of sewing machines and materials.  The Learning Lab's module has been excellently designed as to how a paying student will learn in a fashion school, the difference is that the mothers were sponsored by kindhearted individuals who heeded the fundraising call.

The Learning Lab
A young shopper shows her new top sewed by mothers from Learning Lab.

Thanks to those generous hearts, the initial group of nanays and kumares have progressed from zero skills to creating wearable clothing items, These include buttoned-down polos, pants, and tops, all of which are made from environmentally friendly scrap materials. The Learning Lab aims to graduate a minimum of 50 nanays and kumares from a series of sewing courses by the conclusion of 2023. 

The Learning Lab
Lady customer is happy with her new top made from upcycled materials.

Since the inception of the sewing training classes a few months ago, the mothers have made significant progress. As a result, the nanays had the opportunity to showcase their skills at their first bazaar, which took place at the Canva head office on June 30th. At the bazaar, their creations impressed the attendees, and several items were sold. In addition to designing wearable clothing, the nanays have expanded their sewing skills to include other items, such as tote bags. Their efforts have been met with great success, as they received an impressive order of 500 tote bags just for the month of July alone.

The Learning Lab has done even more for moms by providing a platform for mothers, particularly those who have dedicated their lives to child-rearing, to earn equitable salaries. Many of them now have newfound confidence in their abilities and have formed collaborative friendships with the other mothers.

For one of the mothers, Vangie Ramos, being part of the Learning Lab's first batch of trained seamstress has given her confidence in her ability to develop new skills despite her age and excel at it. "I could not believe that with our hard work and dedication to learn this new skill, we were able to sell many of our creations during our first bazaar participation", Vangie says in Tagalog.

The Learning Lab
Tops and other styles were sold in a bazaar held at the Canva office

Another learner, Nanay Maribel, who suffers from polio, has demonstrated that, despite her disability, she can still learn the skill of sewing owing to the Learning Lab's training program.

During the Communal Event of the Learning Lab held last July at Better World Cubao, this writer met the mothers who were part of the training program. Many of them reflected on the profound ways in which their lives had altered. Instead of spending much of their time at home, they now have something to do with their newfound skills and creations.

“Our phase now is for establishing the livelihood part where the mothers can have an opportunity to have a steady stream of income. Since the training part has proven effective in harnessing their sewing skills, we now need to generate productivity by finding a market for their creations that can guarantee their income” Moha Barakat says.

For a group of 50-something and older mothers, kumares and grandmothers, finding a new sense of purpose is an achievement in itself. With the help of the Learning Lab and the generous people behind it, the possibilities remain endless for this group of mothers to improve their craft and earn from it. 

Right now, the Learning Lab is still open for generous donors to help sponsor sewing machines, sewing instructors and tuition, sewing tools and materials for the planned next batch of trainees.

This article first appeared on Uplift — an online magazine of Manila Bulletin.