Refugees get help learning English in a sewing class

Advocacy groups that work for immigration reform and to protect the rights of refugees in the United States approach their mission in different ways. One Kentucky-based group called Stitch aims to connect refugee women with English-speaking instructors to help them learn the basics of sewing. Stitch provides a safe place for women to learn a new skill and practice their English, as well as gain a sense of independence and confidence.

Founded in 2011, Stitch has seen more than 50 women complete the program. Many of these women come from Somalia, Cuba and Nepal and work in groups on different sewing projects. Volunteers help guide these women through the craft together. The students at Stitch are usually referred there by ESL instructors who have heard about the program. This is an excellent way for women to learn the language in a format they can use in the real world in an environment without judgment.

Many women in the Stitch program want to sew clothes that are native to their home countries, so the volunteers get a chance to learn about different styles of dress. Somali women have requested patterns for kaftans, and some Muslim students have sewn hijabs, or head scarves.

The women stay with Stitch for different lengths of time, depending on whether they find a job that prevents them from attending or if their skill level outgrows the classroom. Many women receive a sewing machine and a box of notions upon graduation to help further their skill and interest in sewing. Others who stay can make items that they can sell to support their families. Stitch is just one example of an advocacy group created to help make the lives of refugees in the U.S. better by giving them skills they can use to find a job and become self-sufficient.