Before we moved into our house last year, we constructed a long list of things we needed to purge and cable television was one of them. It doesn’t take up space, but we also threw in things that took our money without giving us much in return, and cable easily made the list. So now we have an antenna that sits inside one of our front windows and gives us two local stations and about ten stations that make no sense to me. So we don’t watch any of it, but we have it if we need it.
Last night we needed it.
One of our local stations did a feature on the RiSE Sewing Program that Rising Village launched last month. In 135 seconds they told the story, which is actually not possible. We are tempted to believe that the news we get in short spurts is enough, when most of the time it isn’t. I’m grateful that the local news decided to cover our program, so I’ve linked the story at the bottom of the post, but please read this first. I want to tell you the rest of the story before you see the snippet.
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I met Lun at a local ice cream shop in South Tulsa. We spent the lunch hour talking about the new ESL class we were both participating in and listening to each other’s stories. Lun is from Myanmar (formerly Burma). She is a refugee who fled an oppressive regime that continues to persecute people groups based on their religion. Like many refugees, Lun has thrived in the U.S. She has a career, volunteers with people in her community, and contributes to our economy through paying taxes, being a consumer, and helping the local business she works for thrive. She is a U.S. citizen now and is passionate about helping other Burmese refugees in Tulsa assimilate into our culture in healthy ways as they continue to respect and retain their own. I immediately connected with Lun because we are alike – angsty people who share a desire to fix all the things going wrong in the world. As we swapped contact information at the end of the lunch, she looked at my card and asked about Rising Village. As I told her about the seamstress apprentices in Ghana who are learning to sew as a way to provide for their families, she leaned across the table, eyes wide and slapped her palms down on the table. “We need to do that here,” she said. That day, we found our common passion: women in the margins who need a way to emerge from the shadows and contribute to their community.
I don’t live in Ghana and never have, so my work there has consisted of almost daily messages with our staff in the villages across the country and one or two trips a year. I raise funds by writing and speaking about the issues women face there and the success stories we’ve had along the way. I connect with donors here but have little opportunity to really touch the work there. I’ve always considered my distance from Ghana a good thing since I’m not Ghanaian and generally naive and ignorant about the culture. I’m probably capable of doing far more damage than good if I was present with my white Western fingers in all their business, so I’ve been grateful for a Ghanaian staff who understands how to do good work in this African country in the most culturally appropriate way.
When Lun leaned across the table that day, I resisted the urge to respond with, “Yes, let’s do it now.” I have a board of directors to answer to, and a very impatient voice in my head that must be continually tamed and sometimes bridled. So I pondered, researched, talked to some of the women Lun had in mind for sewing classes, consulted with a woman who started a program in North Carolina teaching refugee women to sew, and sat on my hands until Lun had worn me down. “The women are excited and ready to start,” she kept telling me every time we saw each other. After a few times of hearing this, I asked how many women she was talking about. She pulled out a notebook with a list of names and did a quick count, although I knew she already had the number in her head. “Twenty-six and I’ve put some on a waiting list.” She smiled. I nodded.
I went to our board of directors with a request to launch the new program, they voted yes, and we started four weeks later. In one month we were ready to go, which was a small miracle and a big risk.
The local news reporter I talked to endured my long storytelling about our organization, our mission, the program and the women. I was aware that much of what I said would be cut, and there were things I didn’t have time to mention that are important parts of the story. I knew that after the story aired, I would want to add more. So here’s what didn’t make it into the short news clip (Again, super grateful! Just also aware that local news doesn’t have the air time to go in-depth).
- We have opportunities to welcome people from around the world who are already here and working hard to assimilate into our culture and contribute to our communities. No one leaves their home and culture casually or thoughtlessly. The privilege of welcoming is, indeed, a privilege. I’m celebrating the opportunity to open our hearts and hands to these women and make something beautiful with them.
- Make Welcome in Charlotte, N.C., is the organization that was an inspriation for our model. One of their first students had recently moved to Tulsa and was teaching a few women in her apartment. I found this out by creeping their Facebook page, so I immediately called Make Welcome’s director, Beth, and she put me in touch with her former student. Ciin is now teaching in our program and has brought her students along. We’d be a little lost without her. She speaks the language and is a graduate of a similar program! It’s all these surprising moments along the way that have given us affirmation and the motivation to begin.
- When women are shut out of opportunities to create, earn and help provide for their families, I consider that an injustice. We have worked hard in Ghana to identify women who are the most in need of one helping hand to lift while they do the rest of the lifting. They are successful at this. They want to work. Again, I consider it a privilege to walk alongside women as we all work hard to contribute to our communities.
- The women have goals. Some of them want to learn to sew so they can mend or make clothing for their families. Others want to earn extra income by making products that could be sold on our online store or at pop-up shops and craft fairs. Other women would like to work for a local business that needs stitchers.
- The women in our communities who are living in invisible places because they don’t speak the language or feel incapable of assimilating often have amazing skills and talents that they are unable to use. When we unleash their creativity and capability, everyone benefits. I believe we have nothing to fear from people who come to our country to succeed. They make it a better place for all of us. A scarcity mentality is small, narrow, and dangerous. I want us to create wide spaces for everyone to succeed.
So there is the rest of the story, at least as it’s unfolding right now. I have hopes and dreams for the RiSE program – that we can reach more women with opportunities to make something beautiful for themselves, their families, and their country. I’m grateful to South Tulsa Baptist Church for providing us the physical space, volunteers for providing the instruction, and donors for providing the resources as we continue to watch our friends from around the world rise.
If you want more information or to join our RiSE team, email firstname.lastname@example.org