Some days, it is a room full of new mothers, with a baby on every knee. Other days you are sitting with a crowd of new arrivals who are eager to learn more about being a part of this community. We start with introductions all around. Some days we talk more "business"--working together to go through new products and talk about how to improve them moving forward. Most classtimes, Meagan or Jessica will take us through an ESL lesson, tailored to the crowd that day.
This week was another wonderful treat. During ESL class this week, Dr. Salai and I pulled the women aside individually to go over their products and what they would like to do in the future. What a blessing to get some precious one-on-one time.
We had two new artisans visit for the first time, Mary and Nan. Turns out Nan (who currently works in housekeeping at a local hotel) worked as a professional seamstress while a refugee in Malaysia. And Mary already owns and knows how to use a sewing machine. Another new artisan, Ruby, is a master seamstress as well. I'm once again overwhelmed at the untapped talent all around us. I was thinking about how many refugee women across the country are working (or looking for work) at minimum wage jobs as hotel housekeepers or dishwashers who are really trained and creatively skilled weavers, sewers and jewelry makers. It was just one of those days that reinforced why we do what we do.
|NoMia, Ruby and Huang. Two new artisans and a new tatting instructor! |
(amazing) Portraits by Kelsi Williamson.
(On a side note, Meagan works with this same group on our "off" Wednesdays doing "mommy and me" activities. She showed me a picture of Huang participating in class, carrying her son on her back and managing her two other young ones, all while tatting away, creating wonderful new pieces for you all to enjoy. If that's not multi-tasking, I'm not sure what is!)
So, at the end of the day today, we had a handful of new rice bag bibs, some rice bag diaper totes, some beautiful, handwoven scarves and some fun, artisan-designed miniature bags. We had also learned that one of the artisans, a single mother of 5, is without health insurance. Her eyes bother her so much that she has had to stop weaving, something she truly enjoys and was a source of added income. Dr. Salai is on the case and will work with her this week to make sure her family receives care, but honestly, I find this heart-breaking and overwhelming.
Class seems to magnify the contradictions of this work--where we see wonderful progress and hope for the future mixed in with disturbing situations and unthinkable challenges. Today was just another reminder of why we're here. To carefully unwrap the gifts offered, to delight in the hidden surprises and to grimace together as we work through the unexpected nutty truffle.