Monday, April 24, 2017

Why I'm Making Refugee Quilts

A few years ago, one of my students gave a speech about his journey to the United States.  I've heard many speeches of the same topic, but none quite like this one.  He spoke about how most of his fellow classmates had probably dreamed of coming to the U.S. someday, but he never had that dream.  In fact, he knew nothing of this country prior to his arrival here.  He was a refugee whose country was (and still is) experiencing extreme human rights violations, torture, and more.  He fled to a neighboring country and spent a lengthy amount of time living in a refugee camp there until one day, he was informed he was going to Dallas.  "What's Dallas?", he asked.  Two days later, he was in the U.S. trying to make sense of his new life.  Two years later, he ended up in my speaking class, opening up my world.

This is just one, small story out of countless more I could share about the refugees I have encountered over my past ten years of teaching English as a Second Language.  I have spent considerable time with refugees from four different continents and even more countries.  I have heard heartbreaking stories of violence, have seen fear in the eyes of those so strong, and I have seen images that I will never be able to erase.  But these are things I did not experience; these things did not happen in my reality.  It is impossible for me to understand what it is like to have experienced these things.  So I listen.  And for years, I have been silent about what I have heard.  I have listened and I have cried and I have admired the strength I have witnessed within these humans.  I fear though that I have been silent for too long.  So lately, I have been sharing AND listening because I don't know any other way for us to learn from each other.

I have lived a very comfortable, fortunate life.  One that I am forever thankful for.  A few things have happened to me as I have aged and as I have worked with individuals throughout the world.  I have become even more thankful for my comfortable, fortunate life while at the same time, I have questioned why not everyone is afforded the same hand.  The deeper I dig, the more uncomfortable I get, and I start to see.  It's overwhelming (a phrase I feel I say all too often), and I start to feel helpless until I focus on what I can do within my own world, here and now.

So what do I do?  Firstly, as mentioned above, I listen.  It may seem quite passive and inconsequential, but I've found it's one of the most important things I can do.  Everyone needs to be heard.  Secondly, I'm taking every opportunity I can to help my local refugee population.  While I teach, I try to empower the best that I can.  I trust that learning is reciprocal and that we're both growing thanks to the other.

Recently, I've been sewing to literally give comfort to refugee babies.  Catholic Charities has been collecting baby blankets for the next group of refugees joining our community.  They come with next to nothing.  Imagine, coming to a country to you've never been to with nothing more than a bag.  I hope that these little quilts will provide warmth and extend a positive welcoming I so dearly hope they receive.
This first quilt is a simple improv quilt, built around a block I mimicked from a quilt my mom made when I was a child. The block was made with bias piece scraps so the fabric choices were truly random.  I loved the combination of the colors and was able to find enough scraps to continue to build in the same fabrics.
The second quilt was made thanks to the generosity of others.  An anonymous donor paid for fabrics from Owl & Drum and I was asked to make a quilt with them.  Since the quilts are to be gender-neutral and since O&D is one of the collection spots for these quilts, an owl seemed to be perfect.  I found a free owl paper-piecing pattern, which was both challenging and fun, and built off of that.
Whenever I work on any sewing project, Rio always asks who it is for.  These quilts were no different.  In my answer, I told her that there are some people who live in places that are not safe for them any longer and we're helping give them a safe place to live.  Some of these people come with children and these blankets are for them.  Simple as that.  I think maybe the simple answer is best for us all sometimes.

Listen, learn, and love.

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