When Mano a Mano has needed to repair or upgrade its computers, electronics technician and Mano a Mano volunteer, Larry Oberg, has been our “go-to guy”. But in 2020 Larry surprised us with a new project and a question: could we use repaired sewing machines in Bolivia? Our answer: Yes.

Larry says he was always fascinated by his mom’s sewing machine, analyzed its inner workings and repaired it. Years later, when his wife Ellen’s machine began to falter, he discovered that an abundant supply of decades-old but repairable sewing machines is available in the U.S. He decided to purchase a standard set of machines to repair and donate to Mano a Mano, and settled on Kenmore’s 158 series. This series has a simple operating system and all-metal (no plastic) parts.

Sewing machines, refurbished by Larry, packed and ready to go to Bolivia in our next shipment from our St. Paul warehouse.

A standard set of machines has several advantages: parts are interchangeable (for example, the bobbin for one can be used on any machine); skills needed to operate one apply to the others; and all machines have the same maintenance requirements. The eight Kenmores (plus a similar Singer) that Larry purchased and repaired now function like-new and are prepped for our upcoming March cargo shipment.

In addition to the tons of medical supplies included in every Mano a Mano shipment of cargo to Bolivia, we send items that assist with other aspects of our programs. But why sewing machines?

Furnishings for Mano a Mano’s Clinics, Schools, Training Rooms, and Offices

Mano a Mano receives thousands of pounds of donated, lightly used linens yearly; most are used for their original purpose by our health care programs in Bolivia. Those that cannot be used for their original purpose are repurposed to meet other needs. Every building constructed by Mano a Mano requires furnishings such as table coverings, curtains, or towels. Groups of volunteers select fabric from the used linens we ship, cut it to size and fashion something new, such as clinic curtains.

Most volunteers in Bolivia don’t have their own sewing machines. Having machines at the Cochabamba office not only makes it possible to involve more seamstresses in this project, it also gives them an opportunity to improve sewing skills that are useful to them in their daily lives.

Wind Socks for Airstrips

When Mano a Mano’s aircraft transport patients and volunteers, they often take off and land at simple gravel or grass airstrips with no control towers or staffing. Wind socks inform the pilot of wind direction and velocity at ground level, and improve the safety of flying throughout remote regions – another of the volunteer seamstresses sewing projects.

Mano a Mano’s Cessna Caravan landing on an airstrip in San Lorenzo, Bolivia (wind sock in the upper right corner).

More Mano a Mano Volunteer Spotlights

Below are a few more interviews with Mano a Mano volunteers that are so crucial to everything that we do. Are you interested in getting involved? Please contact us!