Caitlin Mittrick

Caitlin Mittrick is a graduate student at The George Washington University pursuing a Master of Arts degree in International Development Studies with a concentration in Humanitarian Assistance. Caitlin has a background in African affairs, having recently completed an internship at the Atlantic Council Africa Center and formerly serving as an intern at A Child for All. She is particularly passionate about examining the humanitarian-development nexus through the lens of localization to achieve sustainable, community-based solutions to global problems. Caitlin is excited to work with AP to develop an effective social media strategy that will promote the work of amazing partners from around the world.

Fight to the Finish

26 Jun

Do you recall the excitement from watching a favorite childhood movie in which the underdogs race against the clock, defy all odds, and somehow manage to triumph? Well, that’s what happened this week here in Nairobi. Unfortunately, we learned on Saturday that Merry, one of our key players in the sewing training, tested positive for COVID-19. Although her symptoms were very minimal, this meant she had to self-isolate and miss the first two days of our four-day training session. Bobbi, Stella, and I were all at a loss for words! Our goal of completing 25 tote bags for the online store, Southern Stitchers, now seemed impossible.

Despite this major setback, Bobbi, Stella, and I set our sights on making the training as smooth as possible. We even had a breakthrough on Monday when we met with Gladys, founder of a woven textile company, to see how she could use our ladies’ embroidery talents on her products and thus provide the ladies with a consistent source of income. The three of us met with Gill, AP’s quilting consultant here in Nairobi, to visit Gladys’s warehouse. We were all immediately impressed! I, for one, had never seen weaving equipment quite like this. I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen weaving equipment! Gladys’s aptitude for business was evident in her advanced operation. Needless to say, her products were beautiful! From the meeting, Gladys conveyed that she was seeking local embroiderers who can add to her fabrics. This would be an incredible opportunity for the Kangemi and Kibera ladies, who normally live on a hand-to-mouth basis. We expect more meetings to follow, but we hope our local colleagues can now take the lead!

One of the 14 looms in Gladys’s warehouse.

We commenced the second and final week of sewing training on Wednesday. In compliance with the CDC’s updated COVID-19 guidelines, Merry was isolated for five days, which meant we had to start without her. This was nerve-racking! Fortunately, all the ladies made it through the sewing machine on the first day, so they were able to get familiar with the machine. On Day 2, I knew Bobbi would need all the help she could get! All the ladies now had to make their pockets to later sew onto their bags. Even though I hadn’t touched a sewing machine in 10 years, I was happy to learn that using a sewing machine is much like riding a bike. Once you learn, it’s hard to forget! I closely watched Bobbi as she demonstrated how to sew the pockets so that I could assist others. I was so proud of myself when I successfully sewed a pocket along with my friend Esther! 

Esther and I are proud of our creation!

Luckily, Merry was feeling well enough to join us masked on Friday. This was great because we needed her skills! Friday was big because we had to get all the pockets and straps sewn onto the bags. By the end of the day, we weren’t even halfway through. Our goal was starting to seem more and more out of reach! To top it all off, we learned late on Friday night that we had to be out of the venue by 2 pm on Saturday, which is several hours earlier than we were expecting. At that point, we truly needed a miracle to finish all the bags.

On Saturday morning, Bobbi, Merry, and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we were probably only going to be able to get a handful of bags finished. As the day went on, however, it became clear that the miracle we were all praying for was coming true. The ladies were all powering through the sewing machines! I even had to make a quick trip to the shopping center for more thread. By the end of the day, we had finished all but one of the bags for a grand total of 17! We now had 33 bags altogether, surpassing our goal of 25. This truly shows what the determination of a strong group of women can accomplish!

Smiling because we beat the odds and surpassed our goal!

After a long two weeks of sewing training, I’m happy to now have the time to catch my breath, catch up on emails, and write my blogs. On Sunday, I even had the opportunity to celebrate my 22nd birthday Kenyan-style here in Nairobi. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my birthday: surrounded by friends, great food, and a lively atmosphere. Today is Bobbi’s and Merry’s last day here in Nairobi, and I’m going to miss their company. Hopefully, by the time I see them next, I’ll have mastered the basic embroidery stitches and have progressed to more complex designs. Time can only tell!

Me, Bobbi, Merry, and Stella right before enjoying some much-deserved Chinese food on Saturday night.

Posted By Caitlin Mittrick

Posted Jun 26th, 2023


  • Merry May

    July 11, 2023


    Caitlin was an invaluable member of our team, even though she had to undergo “on the job training,” so to speak! She was a quick study, and was always ready to jump in wherever we needed her. She also served as our “paparazzi,” taking photos of each woman with her completed bag. It’s hard to believe that we accomplished as much as we did, despite my bout with Covid-19. My down time was partially spent cutting kits to make it easier to assemble the bags, which I think helped us achieve our goals. Many, many thanks to you, Caitlin! I hope we’ll be able to work together on another project!

  • Iain Guest

    July 12, 2023


    Well done, Caitlin! You were an essential part of the team and you all did an amazing job. To judge from your photos, the bags looks great and I can’t wait to collect them and bring them back for sale. Blogs like this really tell the story of how the embroidery project works – and also what hard work it is for everyone. Having Merry come down with COVID just added to the challenge. But she a trooper!

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