Monday, May 13, 2013

The Women Next Door

As a stay-at-home mama, I know how lonely it can be to go without adult conversation for 8+ hours a day. And as a former expatriate, I know how isolating it can be to live in a foreign country where you don’t understand the customs, can’t speak the language, and have minimal self-sufficiency/independence. All that to say, I can’t really imagine the isolation and loneliness of being a stay-at-home mama living in a foreign country.

When I moved to our little West Texas town, population just over 100,000, I mourned the loss of diversity and different cultures. I’m not exaggerating when I say “mourned.” I cried about it. I think God laughed at my blindness. Before long, I started seeing lots of Asian people working in the local grocery store. Then I met Kelli, a woman at church, who told me there were Burmese refugees living in Midland. I asked more and more questions, and before long found myself, my husband, and my little blonde-haired daughter with Kelli attending a Chin National Day cultural event with hundreds of Burmese people, all members of the Chin ethnic group and all displaced by war, violence, and a hostile military regime in their home country. It was like going back to Asia.

Burmese snacks.

I was shocked. I couldn’t figure out where they all had been. Our town isn’t big. Like I said, I’d seen a handful of Burmese men stocking shelves at the grocery store, but I had no idea so many women and children lived in our community. I never saw them, and as I started talking with some of my local friends in the following weeks, we agreed that no one else ever saw them either. Kelli helped me arrange to meet a few of the ladies the following week, and we sat down to chat about what life is like here in the USA for the women. I mentioned the fact that I never noticed Burmese women and children in the community, and one of the women knowingly nodded.

“It’s hard,” she said. “The men work all the time. The women stay home with their babies, cooking and cleaning and sleeping. They don’t feel good, so they call their husbands, but their husbands are busy. So they just take medicine and go to sleep.” As she tried to communicate her heart in broken English, suddenly I realized she wasn’t telling me the women had the flu. What she was really describing was depression.

It’s a perfect storm, really. Midland has an incredibly strong economy, so the Chin flock here because they hear there are jobs when they can’t be found in other parts of the country. They come because their Chin friends tell them to come, but none of the support services our nation offers to refugees are available here. Until this year, there wasn’t a refugee resettlement agency with a physical presence here in Midland, and even now it is temporary. So they are not regularly receiving the ESL services, medical checkups, counseling, and community-introduction classes that they would normally receive in other parts of the country as newly-arrived refugees. But they are finding jobs, so they continue to come. And while the men are busy working, many of the women remain isolated in their homes, unable to do much of anything except sit with their traumatic memories.

We can do better than this.

After learning about the work of groups like Hill Country Hill Tribers and the Community Cloth, I realized I could take my Scarlet Threads experience and start something similar here in our community. I met Mellie, another stay-at-home mama with a heart for the Burmese and lots of crafty ideas, and we began brainstorming projects. We met with a whole host of Burmese women, and with the help of Dawt, a local Burmese pastor’s wife, we finally narrowed it down to a handful of women that we could really build relationships with. (We didn’t think we could meaningfully engage with 15 women! So we started with 4.)

Dawt, with her sleeping baby strapped on, and her aunt. 

We are working with the women to utilize the skills they already have to produce boutique-quality handmade goods for infants and toddlers. We’re calling it the Chin Collection. Mellie designs the products; I’m working on business development and marketing; and the ladies are hard at work creating the first collection using techniques like sewing, hand appliquĂ©ing, embroidery, and crocheting.

But this isn’t really just about providing them with supplemental income and marketable skills. This is about building relationships. It’s about friendship. We are able to sit and have tea. We’re able to take our kids over and let them play with other kids who don’t look or sound like them. We’re able to learn about their lives and to share some of ours; to practice English and help them feel like they're a part of our local community. Hopefully we can help lighten their load a little bit. Sometimes the stories we hear cause our hearts to break… like the woman who shared that her son “disappeared” in Burma over 6 years ago and asked us to pray for him. She said she isn’t sure if he is dead or alive, and that while either would be OK, she just wants to know.

It’s sobering to think that each of these people -- the people we see sweeping the floors at Wal-Mart or making the Sushi at the grocery store or dishing up our food at the take-out place... the people who we hardly give a second glance -- comes to our community with such a traumatic past. Missing family members, under-the-cover-of-darkness escapes from their home, years in refugee camps, torn-apart families and unspeakable tragedies. This is what has brought them here. And now we have an opportunity to respond… to reach out and make their transition here a little easier than it was before. We have so much to learn from them… bravery, courage, hope, and faith… far more than we could ever offer to them.

*****

Visit this link to view and purchase Chin Collection products! For more information or to be kept up-to-date on our progress as we move towards launching this collection, please e-mail chincollection@scarletthreads.org.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Snapshot: Coming Soon...

A little anticipation never hurt anything, right? What say you...? Don't these colors pop in a way that makes you want to just throw a party this afternoon, just like that?


And then Huan Mei and her growing-up-too-fast daughter, Emily. These are two of the most precious people you will ever meet. And when you put them into some in-the-works Mommy&Me aprons? I think that I can safely say that they're adorable.


Note: Aprons on Huan Mei appear much longer than they actually are. She's a very petite woman!


Ni Hao Yall

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thrifty Thursday: Baby Bliss - $20

We have so many exciting projects in the works over here at Scarlet Threads. One of my favorite new endeavors is involving local (read from the US) talented seamstresses (and quilters) - like my own mother - in our fair trade mission. Product development is difficult to achieve across oceans given the long lag time between revisions, tactile sensory under-load, and other challenges. In response to the challenges, we've started product development with my mother (among others) and we will be posting the new products on Scarlet Scraps.

Joanzie, which is what I affectionately call my sweet mommy, is an extremely talented quilter and is the author behind Sew, Joan, Sew! (her rather irregular blogging effort - she is oft sidetracked by sewing projects... imagine that!). For the past few years she has been one of ST's chief cheerleaders and we've recently found a way to put her eye for fabric pairings and fastidious attention to detail to good use for the cause. Because we are very proud to be a fair trade business, we compensate her for her labor of love in accordance to our principles. Our own commitment is that the proceeds of the sale go to our Adoption Grant Fund, which gave its first distribution to a very deserving family earlier this year.

The linkage to every aspect of Scarlet Threads mission statement amazes me! We are connecting women and families across the globe...
by bringing the goods of talented artisans to new markets
by empowering a woman to develop new product ideas for our fair trade business
and by ensuring the proceeds bring a child home to his or her forever family.

Baby Changing Pad - $20
The first thing that Joanzie has created for us is this adorable changing pad. The dimensions are 17 X 32 inches. The entire pad is machine quilted by Joan's expert hand. And the applique giraffe might be the best part of the piece.

We will decide whether to put this item into production based on your responses! So, leave us a comment or place an order on the website or by emailing Eileen@ScarletThreads.org to purchase via PayPal.

As always, because the proceeds are going to our Scarlet Scraps Adoption Grant Fund, we will not be able to accept coupons or discounts.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Why We Work

During my morning commute today, I heard the news of last week's garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. What a horror. The structure was 8 stories and housed 5 garment factories. Over 400 people were killed. My heart really breaks for these people and their families.

A blessing that arose out of this: thousands of workers are marching through the streets of the city demanding safe working conditions. In our country, we had to do the same 100 years ago.

The picture is linked to an ABC.NET.AU article.

We are lucky. I am aware, probably more than most, of the difference in safety culture between the West and the developing worlds because I work in Construction for a multinational company. Failure isn't being over budget or behind schedule. Failure is defined as one of my crew getting hurt. Anything else can be fixed, smoothed over, explained. An injury - large or small - or God forbid a death - is permanent. And, that is why keeping people safe is important. Humans can't be fixed with more money or with time. Sometimes they can heal, but some scars don't go away.

Scarlet Threads is such a blessing in its current form. We do not have to worry about people's working conditions because we work with individuals who we know and trust. Our seamstress works in her home, she sets her own hours, her own pace, and her own price. Knowledge is everything - and we have the responsibility to know where our products are made and by whom. We are blessed to know those things at Scarlet Threads. And, we always will.

My prayer is that the people continue demanding improved working conditions and that we as consumers demand the same thing. We can do our part to support the struggle by being informed consumers and by sharing in the heartbreak with people across the world.