Four weeks into a new season of Make Welcome Refugee Sewing school classes and we’ve got so much to report! Our students have been busy learning new skills and working to improve on what they learned last year. Here’s a brief rundown:
Our Tuesday “Give Back” class has completed almost 25 pillowcases that we will donate to Beds for Kids. When our refugee students arrived in the United States, most of them came with little more than a small suitcase, a few clothes, and very few personal items. They were the grateful recipients of help in many forms - clothing, furniture, household goods, and more. The generosity of many helped them get on their feet in their new homes. Now, through our “Give Back” class, they have the opportunity to do just that, give back to others. After the pillowcases, our next project will be aprons for the Cooking School students at Project 658!
Our Wednesday Garment Sewing class has begun learning to sew with a pattern. We are using a cute,user- friendly pattern from Oliver + S. called the “After School Pants and Shirt.” So far, our students have learned all about pattern markings, layout, and cutting. They’ve sewn patch pockets and lined pockets, done beautiful topstitching, and most have completed their first pair of pants. They will sew a second pair of pants in a different size in order to master the new skills they learned with their first pair of pants. We are very grateful to Oliver + S, one of our first class sponsors, for their generous donation of patterns.
Our Thursday Beginner class started with the basics - learning how to fill a bobbin, thread the machine, and sew a simple straight seam. They’ve quickly completed two projects, pillowcases and the cute skirts from the Lazy Days Skirt pattern. This week, they’ll begin learning to sew tote bags.
Our Friday Advanced Class/Production team has been working steadily on an order for Amahoro Burundi. Make Welcome Co-Director, Lisa Roszler designed a really cute little stuffed cat. With their hand-embroidered faces and African print skirts, these kitties are a hit with everyone who sees them!
We go through a LOT of fabric in our Make Welcome classes. We’ve been the recipients of many fabric donations but are currently in need of larger pieces of fabric, particularly denim and khaki type fabrics, and knits for our garment sewing class. If you have any you’d like to donate, let us know.
Finally, we do have an Amazon wishlist with a number of sewing related supplies. With 30 plus students, we have to replace sewing machine needles frequently so that’s a big need. To find our wish list, search under lists at Amazon.com for Make Welcome Refugee Sewing School.
Any donations that come to Make Welcome make it possible for our group of students from Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Syria to learn, work, laugh, and build friendships in a safe, encouraging, supportive environment. For our students, many of whom have been through trials that we can barely imagine, the two hours of sewing class are indeed a place where welcome, in the name of Jesus, is made tangible, stitch by stitch.
Bags, boxes, and bins of donated fabric have been sorted, patterns have arrived, curriculum is being tweaked, and class lists finalized. We are getting ready for another year of Make Welcome Refugee Sewing School classes and we’re pretty excited about seeing our returning students and meeting new ones.
We will offer our Beginner Sewing Class to new students again this fall and are currently going through our stack of student registrations to finalize the class list. We wish we could offer the class to every single person who signs up, but space, machines, and childcare (more on that later) limit our class size to 8 students. We have applications from women (and men!) from Congo, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Burma and we look forward to meeting and getting to know the 8 students who will be a part of this new class.
For the first time, we will offer a Garment Sewing Class. Students who have completed our Beginner 1 Class and who have the skill level to move on will be sewing women’s, men’s, and children’s garments, using patterns donated by two independent pattern companies. Oliver+S, maker of children’s patterns, and Colette, maker of women’s and men’s patterns, both have the reputation of producing patterns that are especially geared toward teaching new skills. We are currently sewing a sample of the very cute Oliver+S After School Pants and Top pattern to familiarize ourselves with the pattern and can’t wait to use it, and the other fun patterns, in our Garment Sewing Class.
Another new class offering this year is our Beginner 2 Giving Back class. For students who have completed our Beginner 1 class but need more practice sewing simple items, we will be repeating some of our beginner projects which we will donate to other refugee services: tote bags for students in ESL classes, aprons for Project 658 Cooking School students, and pillowcases to welcome new refugee arrivals.
Our Advanced Sewing Class and Production Team returning students will continue sewing for items that will provide supplemental income for their families as they produce items for businesses like Journey Home Crafts, Amahoro Burundi, and others. We hope that many of them will have the opportunity to participate in an Artisan Christmas Fair this year and look forward to helping them to expand and hone their skills. This group will also be doing a bit of garment sewing and beginning to learn some alteration skills.
It’s going to be a full week of teaching and learning with classes Tuesday through Friday. We are almost ready but we do have some, as yet, unmet needs for the fall …
We have some classroom supplies needs – thread guides, sewing machine needles, bobbins and more. We have a Make Welcome Refugee Sewing School Amazon Wish List and we invite you to take a look and purchase from the list if you’re interested in helping us supply our sewing classroom. Thanks in advance!
H, from Vietnam, wondered aloud why her life is so hard. Why did her husband leave her? Why does her 21 year old son have kidney disease and have to go to dialysis every week? Why did she have stomach problems two weeks ago and go to the emergency room and then get a bill for $4000? Why did she have to leave her home country?
F, from Afghanistan, brought her brother's paperwork and we looked over the Department of Defense form that will have to be filled out in order to try and locate his American supervisors. We came up with a list of things she will have to find out from him in order to complete the forms. His life is in danger. He just wants to bring his family to this country to be safe. F is desperate for any help she can find to help make that happen.
T, from Nepal, told me about her husband's friend's mother who died yesterday from blood cancer at age 52. There will be a three day wake which, she said, is very hard on the family.
How little it seems our sewing can do in the midst of problems like these. What a small thing it is to sit beside a woman and show her how to thread a sewing machine. And yet ... I have a waiting list of many more beginning students than we can accommodate in the new classes we'll add in September. Women who want to be in a sewing class for two hours in hopes, of what?
Full time employment at a living wage? I can't promise that.
Their own business to provide a fair wage income for their family? I can't promise that.
Solutions to the problems like the ones I heard today. I can't begin to promise any of that.
But there are things that after three years of teaching sewing classes to refugee women I can offer ...
Teachers that will share the love of Christ in word and deed; who will offer not only their knowledge but their hearts.
Teachers that will patiently walk beside students as they learn new skills and show them over and over and over again, as many times as it takes, how to thread the machine, where to put the bobbin, how to sew a simple seam. As many times as it takes.
Teachers that will go beyond the classroom into their homes and become friends. Teachers who will walk beside them, trying to learn and understand their struggles and helping with needs as we are able or pointing them to others who know better than we do how to deal with their problems.
Laughter. I can offer them laughter. Plenty of it. And smiles. And hugs.
Creativity. I can offer them the opportunity to stretch their dormant creative wings, to try new things and not have to worry about judgement. I can offer encouragement support, and applause for their efforts.
I can offer a place that is safe and warm and welcoming, where hurts can perhaps be salved for a while to the rhythm of a sewing machine. I can offer that balm, and hope for healing for women who have experienced traumas I can barely imagine.
Classes are over for this term for those of us who work with Make Welcome. We need a break to refresh and recharge, to plan and prepare so that we will be ready for a new term of classes come September, when the learning and loving and growing will continue, Lord willing.
We can't pay hospital bills, or heal kidney failure or cancer, or bring families fearful for their lives to safety. But we can show up with fabric and scissors and sewing machines and instruction and love. That's what we'll do and we'll wait, expectantly, to see how God will work in our midst
Sewing class days are some of the best days of the week for Make Welcome teachers and students. We find ourselves greeting each other with hugs and questions about our families and our weeks, what's been going on in our lives and what we're concerned about. There is so much sharing that happens when we gather and a whole lot of laughter.
Those of us who don't speak Burmese or Swahili or French or Ciin miss a lot as the laughter peals across the room. "What did she say? What are you laughing about? What's funny?" Our students may try to explain, but often the humor gets lost in translation. Ah well, we laugh along anyway, glad to be sharing a light moment with these friends whose lives have been full of heavy, hard struggle. The laughter in class is a gift!
Sewing days are also times when our students have the opportunity for uninterrupted concentration on a task that is sometimes quite challenging for them. Many of our Make Welcome women are mothers with small children at home and thanks to a dedicated group of childcare helpers, class time is the one time during the week when the women have a chance to sit and work, to learn something new, to practice and perfect a skill. We share many moments of triumph and accomplishment each week with our students. It may seem a small victory to accurately sew a casing seam in an apron, but it is a happy moment nonetheless.
LG working with Sara and concentrating intently on cutting out a pattern - a new skill for her.
Wah (below) working very hard to sew the curve on her apron strap casing.
Class days are often times of celebration like when a project, like the aprons Kyi and Wah are wearing, is completed. Each woman chose her fabrics from our large supply of donated fabric. They worked hard today finish this apron project, which was designed by our talented teacher/designer, Lisa. I was trying hard to get these two to smile. One thing we've noticed is that our students don't really smile for the camera, but looks like I got at least a little bit of a grin from Kyi and Wah!
We celebrate, too, when a goal is reached. This Wednesday three of our students had reached their attendance goal and brought in the required payment to cover the rest of the subsidized cost of their new sewing machines! We love being able to give women their new machines - machines that have been earned through regular class attendance and a final cash payment on their part.
We'll be telling you more in the weeks ahead about how you can contribute to our Sewing Machine Sponsorship Program. We are eager to raise additional funds to continue this program with our current students and with the new students we anticipate in the months to come. We'll have more details soon for those of you who may be interested in being a part of this great program!
Friends, we've been quiet for far too long and in the interim, so MUCH has been happening with our Make Welcome sewing classes! Our apologies for the extended silence. How about a long overdue update ...
Since our last blog post (waaay back in November of last year), we finished up the year with a wonderful Christmas party. Lisa led our devotion/discussion Christmas symbols - familiar to most Americans, but perhaps unfamiliar to some of our students. While she shared their roots and meanings, the women enjoyed decorating Christmas cookies in the shapes of these symbols. We exchanged gifts and it truly was an exchange, as the students had pooled their money and purchased beautiful nesting bowl sets for each of the sewing teachers and childcare helpers. We were so moved by their thoughtfulness and generosity. Of course, the kids all had a great time, too, making ornaments, decorating cookies, and opening gifts. Everyone loves a party and our Christmas party has always been a very special time of celebrating with our refugee students!
We began 2016 by taking the month of January to prepare for our move to a new teaching space! In the month before Christmas, we had been in conversations with Project 658, a local refugee service organization that has a community center near a number of the apartment complexes where our students live. We were invited to bring our classes to the center, with the option to increase the number of classes and students we serve. It was a surprising invitation and as we reflect on the its timing, we know it was an answer to prayer and an opportunity that we hope will make our sewing classes more sustainable over the long term. It also gives us wider interaction during the week in our community and the opportunity to partner with others.
We decided to make the move on a trial basis, and in February, launched a new beginner's class on Tuesday mornings. The class quickly filled with students from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Burma, Congo, and Colombia. Our beginners class that started last September continues to meet on Wednesdays, and our more advanced students, who constitute the production team for Journey Home, come on Fridays.
It's been an exciting challenge, figuring out the logistics of teaching three classes a week, but our teaching staff has risen to it! I (Beth) am grateful for all that Lisa, Carla, and Sara have done to make the transition go smoothly. In addition, we have partnered with Project 658 staff to handle childcare and transportation on Tuesday and Wednesdays. Julia continues to oversee all of those logistics for the Friday class, as well as leading training in finances and money management with the Production team on our once a month Friday evening classes. We're learning as we go, grateful for the encouragement and generosity of so many that enable us to offer these classes.
Bright, big space ready to be transformed into a ...
... with plenty of room for cutting tables, ironing stations, storage,
and large group teaching!
It's been a busy, full, interesting last few months and we want to catch you up on some of the other things we've been doing including what we've been sewing in our weekly classes. So stay tuned ... and thanks for reading!
Our emotions have been on a roller coaster ride as we have followed the news in recent weeks ...
We have been so saddened by the plight of refugees from Syria, fleeing war, violence, and terror. A few weeks back, images in the news and on social media stirred many to act or give; many who had been either unaware of or unconcerned about this devastating crisis were stirred and began to respond. We have seen an increase in awareness about the plight of refugees in our hurting world and had hope that in the midst of this horrible crisis, many would reach out in compassion to welcome those who have fled the violence.
Then, we were excited and gladdened by the news of political change in Burma, the home of the refugee artisans of our Make Welcome family. The women in class were all very happy last Friday as we asked about change in their country. There is hope that a new day free from the political tyranny of the longstanding brutal military dictatorship is finally beginning to dawn. They know that change will be slow, but there is hope.
On that same day, we were distraught to hear of the terrorist attacks in Paris. We grieved with the citizens of Paris, of those who lost loved ones in such senseless violence. And then, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, we have watched in disbelief as the governor of our own state of North Carolina, together with governors of a number of other states, banned resettlement of refugees from Syria. We have felt sad, angry, and confused.
In the midst of this swirl of events and emotions, we give thanks. Yes, we continue to give thanks! God is love. He is light and "in Him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). In a world so full of darkness, we know that the light of Christ still shines. We endeavor to be a beacon of that light, responding not in fear or hopelessness to recent events, but acting in humility, faith, confidence, joy, and love.
At Make Welcome, we are compelled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:24) to care for, serve, and learn from our refugee students and friends. We recognize that not all of the agencies and organizations that work with refugees are Christian organizations. Nevertheless, we deeply appreciate their work and give thanks that such organizations exist in our city and that among many of them, there is a refreshing spirit of cooperation and collaboration.
We give thanks for those who hear and respond to the call of our compassionate God to care for those who are weak, homeless, poor, oppressed.
We give thanks, especially for the many in our own city who have worked tirelessly to welcome and care for our new refugee neighbors. We have no doubt that these organizations and individuals will continue to sacrifice their time, money, comfort, and resources so that newcomers who have fled here will indeed find Charlotte to be a place of welcome and refuge.
We are grateful for the work of the two refugee resettlement agencies that do the initial work of welcoming refugees to Charlotte. They greet newcomers at the airport, set them up in apartments, help their children get registered in school, oversee medical needs upon arrival, enroll them in ESL classes, provide job counseling, and so much more. These two agencies are:
After the initial few months, the resettlement agencies must pass on the work of caring for refugee families to other organizations. We are thankful for the work of many organizations in our city that provide a wide variety of services:
In addition to these organizations, our local schools, health department, police department, housing authority, community college, and others provide much needed services in the refugee community. While much needs to be done to continue to raise awareness and serve the needs of the refugees in our city, we are thankful for the work that is ongoing.
We also give thanks for a number of individuals who have chosen to relocate to certain areas of the city in order to be good neighbors. Not waiting for organizational backing, these friends care for their refugee neighbors by advocating with landlords, befriending children in their apartment complexes, joining in multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Bible studies and prayer groups, and helping in whatever ways they can as they become more and more connected to their refugee neighbors.
Finally, we give thanks for those churches that have welcomed refugees into their fellowship and sought to reach out with the love of Christ in word and deed. There need to be more churches that shoulder the tasks and welcome the foreigner and oppressed. We give thanks for those that do so now and pray for more!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all those people and groups who serve refugees in Charlotte but these are some of the folks with whom we have worked in the last three years and for whom we are very grateful.
Yes, in the midst of swirling emotions, in the ups and downs of the news of these past weeks, in the concern for what lies ahead ... we give thanks!
Today we give thanks and say a BIG thank you to our donors. In the three years that we've been offering sewing classes to refugee women, we have been the grateful recipients of a number of monetary gifts. Out of the generosity of their hearts, our donors have blessed the women and the work of Make Welcome with generous financial gifts.
When we began the Sewing Machine Sponsorship program, we solicited donations through a rally.org fundraiser. Many friends of Make Welcome donated to the fund, enabling us to supplement to underwrite the cost of sewing machines for many of our students.
In addition, in these past three years, a number of people have given unsolicited and very much appreciated financial gifts for us to use in whatever way we need. We have purchased sewing machines for use in class, as well as other supplies and tools.
Our supporters have also contributed to the work of Make Welcome by purchasing desired supplies from our amazon wish lists. We have lists for both the sewing program and the childcare program. We are so grateful to the folks who have helped to supply our programs by purchasing directly from these wishlists.
We wouldn't be where we are today without from the generosity of so many! We are grateful for you and for your generosity and we say THANK YOU so much for you part in supporting the work of Make Welcome!
We give thanks for Fridays because, for Make Welcome, that means class day!!!
Beth arrives first with a car full of sewing machines, fabric, and other supplies. She unlocks the door and starts lugging stuff in and up the stairs. Julia arrives shortly after, also with a car full, but instead of sewing machines, her car is full of toys, games, and other necessities for the kids. Together with Julia's amazing and helpful kiddos, everything gets carried inside and up the stairs to our classrooms and kid spaces.
Sewing machines get taken out of boxes and plugged in. Ironing boards and irons pulled out of the storage closet. Scissors, pincushions, and fabric distributed.
In the nursery, car tracks, duplos, and baby and toddler friendly toys are placed around. In the Pre-k room, pictures, books, toys, and craft supplies come out.
Julia's kids are experts in setting up and before long, we've worked together to get everything ready for our students and their children to arrive.
More volunteers and students arrive and after moms settle babies and toddlers in their classrooms, we gather in the sanctuary for a devotion and announcements. Then it's up to the sewing classrooms to work and learn!
Around noon, it's time to pack up the machines, return items to the storage closet or back to the cars they came in. Time to take women and children home, time to vacuum the sticker strewn and thread flecked carpets, time to say good-bye til next week.
Some days, like today, everything runs smoothly. The machines purr away, the children play - a beehive of happy, productive work and play. Some days, things don't go quite so smoothly. Needles break, babies are sad, seams get ripped out, children get sick.
Our Friday motto has become, in the words of our student, Mya, "On Fridays, we are happy!" Regardless of how our day has gone, we are happy and grateful for the privilege of being together with our refugee friends and their children. Thankful for the spirit of generosity and cooperation, thankful for a day to teach and learn skills, encourage our friends, and just BE together.
Today, we are giving thanks for our volunteers. They are a rock star group of selfless, tireless, generous women and we would not exist without them. Here are some of the many tasks our volunteers do:
Help teach sewing class
Drive students to and from class
Help set-up and clean up both sewing class rooms and childcare rooms
Prep fabric ahead of class
Teach the ABC's
Design curriculum for both the sewing class and the Pre-k program
Comfort little ones
Rock babies to sleep
Pick up completed items from women's homes
Help with questions about everything from rent to Medicaid to school enrollment
Organize special gatherings like Make Welcome dinners and our fun Christmas party
Clean and oil sewing machines
Read books and play games with the children
I'm sure there are other tasks I've left off the list. There is so much to be done, week in and week out. We are incredibly thankful for our wonderful, dedicated volunteers.