We didn’t have our Make Welcome class this week. We usually schedule class for three of the four Fridays each month and take one week off. While we’d love to have class every week, we do need time to plan, prepare, and do other behind the scenes work.
The word to describe this week for me is collaboration. Make Welcome was invited to participate in the first of the Building Integrated Communities lunch forums hosted by Project 658, a refugee services organization that has just opened a center here in Charlotte. The lunch was an opportunity to meet and connect with others who are working in the refugee community here and find ways to support, encourage, and collaborate to serve the community. Over lunch, we talked at our tables a bit about what it means to build an integrated community and we did a lot of connecting! We met people that work in education and housing, people who help non-profits get started, and those who work with special needs kids. We met another craft entrepreneur and shared some ideas about ways we might work together. We heard about the refugee youth programs and a catering school. Finally, we listened as a refugee couple from Ethiopia told their personal story of the struggles, obstacles, and joys in coming to this country. I expect that every person at the lunch walked away encouraged. I know my head was buzzing with ideas about how Make Welcome might be a part of a thriving, integrated, healthy community here in our city.
That time of connecting with others is important as we find our way. We continue to define what we are doing by trying ideas, listening to our students, discerning needs and desires, and stepping out. Hearing what others are doing, and seeing ways we might glean from their experience, benefit from their wisdom, and perhaps even partner with them gives us a wider vision for the work of Make Welcome. We have a sewing class, yes. But, it is so much more.
That is collaboration on a larger scale. This week, I (Beth) have been collaborating on a smaller scale, too. As we design products to be sewn in our Make Welcome classes and sold through Journey Home crafts, I have to make samples. This involves taking ideas we have and sewing them. I have to figure out how, for example, to sew a rice bag wrist clutch, and then work out the best way to teach the women how to do it. I have to break down and order the steps and determine what skills are needed to make this item. I have to develop a teaching plan and make sure I am not skipping important details.
I have found that to be a good teacher, I need to learn and practice and explore. Sewing samples gives me the opportunity to do this. I am also a quilter and this work helps me be a better teacher (I hope!) It was in my quilting that collaboration on small scale happened this week. I am currently working on a project that requires me to make a quilt with a limited set of fabrics. As I've worked with on this quilt, I've been posting pictures online. I've gotten feedback from others and today, a friend even dropped everything she was doing and came over to help me figure out a quilt design. It was so helpful to have another set of eyes and another brain to help me think through the design. When it was time for my friend to leave, we were both refreshed by our collaboration and I was further along the path toward a finished quilt.
Collaboration is so important – in big and small ways. As I think about the women in our Make Welcome class, I want the efforts of this week to make a difference for them. I want the connections we made at the lunch to be helpful to the women. I also want them to experience the joy of creative collaboration as their sewing skills increase and their creative confidence expands. I want them to enjoy getting together with others to try out ideas and reach for creative solutions – in their sewing work and in the bigger challenges they face in life. How I hope and pray that Make Welcome will continue to be a place that fosters this kind of creative, encouraging, collaborative community.
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Note: Recently there was a devastating car accident in the refugee community. Lisa, a Make Welcome instructor, took some needed food to one of the families affected in the crash. Here is her account of the visit. As you read, pray for the four families who are dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.
Swe’s arms hung limp at her sides, her face showing sleepless nights, her eyes dull and blank. Around her scurried others (Friends? Relatives?)—a thin man, vibrant young woman with a little one tied on her back, small children with gleeful smiles—as they unloaded my trunk.
“Many foods!” exclaimed the vibrant one, adjusting the sling as the baby peered over her shoulder. She lifted and swung the twenty-five pounds of rice easily, gracefully, disappearing into the doorway of the apartment. Swe still stood. I smiled, met her eyes, and placed two chickens in her hands. She looked at them, looked at me, turned woodenly toward the door.
Her husband lay miles away, pierced with tubes and lines attached to blinking, beeping machines, wrapped and bound. The accident had come with great force and greater loss: a disabled bus braking ahead, an attempted merge, blind spot, sideswipe, loss of control-- three dead, two injured. One moment in the black of night changed everything. And Swe stood bewildered in a foreign land with few who spoke her language, her three small children clamoring around her numb legs.
Another took the chickens from her and Swe suddenly enveloped me in a hug. Tight, real, aching, like a hug from one of my own children. My heart ached. Where was her own mother? Back in the refugee camps? Did she know yet? I wanted to tell her everything was going to be okay, but the only phrase I knew with anything close to that meaning was kaun deh: “it is good.” And this? This was not good.
The others did quick work, emptying the trunk of collard and turnip greens, cabbage, onions and garlic, mangoes and limes and tart apples. Cartons of eggs were met with oohs and the children squealed at the sight of grapes. The thin man’s face lit with happiness in recognition (Chiles! he cried) at the bag of red and green cayennes from my garden. Swe warmed when I handed her the box filled with containers of fresh, spicy, homemade vegetable soup.
Thank you, she said. Jesu payt. And I was wrapped in another hug. She held on, made a small sound, held on a little longer.
Jesu payt. It sounds almost like “Jesus paid.” Yes, indeed He did.
God bless you, I said. Yes, she replied. Yes. I got in my car to go back to my world, where I never have to worry about where my next meal will come from and where my medical bills are covered and where I understand what the doctor is saying and where, if I really wanted to, I could drive four hours to my mother’s house. And Swe stood on the sidewalk, her hand frozen in mid-air.
(Photo by Terry Grealey, used under Creative Commons license.)[. . .]