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Volunteer work helps Dubai Filipina dressmaker give back to her community

A Filipina who learned computer skills from the Filipino Digerati Association, a non-profit group of computer enthusiasts, is now paying it forward by teaching others what she knows best dressmaking.

DUBAI // Clarita Cabanizas is not a typical dressmaker - although she spends much of her week hunched over a sewing machine, creating elaborate abayas, jalabiyas, party dresses and wedding gowns inside her employer's home in Deira.

She is also computer literate, a frequent Facebook user and an active member of a group of computer enthusiasts.

Mrs Cabanizas, 54, who is originally from Tayug, Pangasinan, a province north of Manila in the Philippines, finished sixth grade and was unable to continue her studies. She sent her four children, who are now between 28 and 35, to college.

"I'm just a dressmaker with an elementary education," she said. "When I came here to the UAE six years ago, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to learn something new."

She chose not to remain idle but enrolled in and graduated from a three-month basic computer course in 2011. Last year, she attended free courses in arts and crafts making, massage therapy and reflexology, and balloon twisting and decorating. Last month, she completed a course in cosmetics.

She later became a volunteer of the non-profit group Filipino Digerati Association, which offers these livelihood skills training for free in Dubai.

"I would assist the massage therapy and reflexology trainers, take the attendance during students' enrolment and help provide food and refreshments during the training sessions," Mrs Cabanizas said.

But she believed others could make use of her dressmaking skills and turn them into a business. "At my age, I do not only want to update and expand my skills but share them with others," she said.

From April to June, she was the trainer of Digerati's basic dress-making course. For 90 minutes every Friday, her students were taught basic hand stitches, how to operate a sewing machine, take body measurements and create a sewing pattern, and the correct way to mark and cut a fabric.

"It's so easy," she said. "They also learned how to sew a zipper, waistband and a pencil skirt, and the different types of needles to stitch fabrics."

She will share her expertise with a second batch of students when she returns from holiday in the Philippines.

"It's always a pleasure to teach someone like Clarita," said Divine Ursua, a procurement and logistics co-ordinator in Dubai, and a trainer of Digerati's arts and crafts course. "She's passionate and very creative and resourceful."

Since January 2012, Ms Ursua has taught more than 100 students in jewellery and brooch-making, designing a picture frame, and souvenir and scrapbook-making.

"Now that Clarita is a trainer herself, I'm sure that she feels happy and fulfilled in imparting her knowledge and skills," she said.

"We won't be spending time in volunteer work if we're not happy at what we do."

Mrs Cabanizas agreed.

"My former students call me mommy or mama and I'm so happy that they still come to me for help," she said. "We keep ourselves updated through our very own Facebook group."

Unlike her students, she was self taught as a dressmaker. And she has proved herself a mistress of many trades: after five and a half years in Saudi Arabia, she returned to her hometown and worked as a seamstress, tricycle driver and farmer.

Considered the most common way to get around in the Philippines, the tricycle is a motorcycle with an attached passenger cabin.

"I'm so proud of my mother and her achievements," said her daughter Catherine, 30, who sat in on some of the classes. "Digerati has allowed her to slowly build her self-confidence as a student and teacher."


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