Adele Masengo Ngoy, right, works with student Selva Kawaya of Portland during sewing class last week. Ngoy, a fashion designer who is teaching as a volunteer, says “My plan is to have another program, another trainer, and have more women already in the field get involved, so that we can help and train more women.”

Adele Masengo Ngoy, right, works with student Selva Kawaya of Portland during sewing class last week. Ngoy, a fashion designer who is teaching as a volunteer, says “My plan is to have another program, another trainer, and have more women already in the field get involved, so that we can help and train more women.”

In 2000, Adele Masengo Ngoy left the warring Democratic Republic of the Congo for the United States, bringing her three small children. She was given a choice of destinations here.

Among them was New York City, the center of the nation’s fashion industry. Ngoy had studied fashion design in both high school and college and gone on to operate a high-end, highly successful design business in the Congo. Living in New York, one would think, would be a dream come true for someone looking to advance in the fashion world.

But Ngoy had her priorities – three of them – Marielle, Dorcas, and David. “ I wanted to raise my kids in a small and quiet city,” she said. “Portland, Maine was my choice for my kids.”

As longtime friend Linda Jacobson of Scarborough said of Ngoy, “It’s never about her. She always puts other people first.

“She is the most giving person, of both her time and energy, despite having had great need herself. After all, she landed here with three children, four suitcases and not a word of English.”

Ngoy remembers that back then, “I didn’t know any words, even to say ‘hi.’

Now, English is one of five languages she speaks, and that linguistic expertise is coming in very handy: Ngoy has just begun to teach the second session of free sewing classes to a dozen women, all immigrants from various countries. Over a nine-month period, she is training them to become professional stitchers.

The initiative is purely volunteer work for Ngoy, who works full-time managing the alterations department at David’s Bridal in South Portland. In the Congo, she was active “in different women’s organizations.” In Maine, several years ago, she realized that “now that I am in my new home (she is a U.S. citizen) I should be involved in something here.”

So, seven years ago Ngoy founded Women United Around The World, whose organizational goals include to “promote independence for female immigrants to allow them to recognize and develop their potential, and pursue better educational and professional opportunities.”

As WU’s president, in 2010 she launched an annual gala event and fashion show to celebrate International Women’s Day. The show started small but grew fast, and this year’s gala at the Italian Heritage Center featured women from many countries modeling “traditional outfits inspired by their homelands,” plus performances and a silent auction, and presentations of new collections by Ngoy and Janet Andoh.

The sewing classes, held twice weekly at A Gathering of Stitches in Portland’s East Bayside area, have proved a hit, too. There was a waiting list for the new session, which began July 1.

“As a designer (Adele Masengo Designs) I struggle every year to find good seamstresses,” Ngoy said. “But because of my background, I was able to starting teaching the necessary skills.” (But) “the real goal is to help women become independent, network, and make connections in the community.”

The first session was hampered by a sewing machine that kept breaking down, but now, thanks to fund-raising, the class has six industrial-quality machines to learn on.

Still, “there is a lot of need,” Ngoy said, meaning human, “in a growing textile industry,” as well as equipment need. “My plan is to have another program, another trainer, and have more women already in the field get involved, so that we can help and train more women.”

Ngoy raised her children – one just graduated from college, one is in college, and one is entering – “to work hard, and do kindness to others,” her friend Jacobson said.
“She’s a special person, a great mentor and an inspiring presence.”

Or, in Ngoy’s own words: “My passion is teaching, design, and to share. I love to share.”

To learn more about Women United Around the World, please visit www.womenunitedaroundtheworld.org, and visit its Facebook page.

 

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.