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At Stitch Buffalo, refugee women make friends and money while making works of art

Buffalo has long been a city of immigrants.

The vast diversity of our neighborhoods brings to mind the fact that being an immigrant must be quite frightening.

And how much harder and scarier must it be to be a refugee fleeing a war-torn country for safety. Imagine what it must feel like to live in such fear.

Stitch Buffalo is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to work with refugee women from Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Thailand and Angola who have resettled in Buffalo.

Stitch Buffalo helps these women earn a living in an unexpected way – with the art of stitching.

By making and selling handmade items, the women learn more about business, economic strength and, in some cases, help to support their families financially.

The range of products the women create includes jewelry, ornaments, and so on. These are not machine mass-produced articles made from cheap materials in factories. They are works of art.

Dawne Hoeg, a founder of Stitch Buffalo, said she was inspired to combine needle arts with a nonprofit organization in 2014 because of her background. Hoeg’s history includes education in textile design at Buffalo State College and handwork at the Aurora Waldorf School.

"It started as a simple workshop project to build community among these women to help them get out of the house, bond with other women in similar situations as well as learn a new skill or improve upon their own," says Hoeg.

Stitch empowers refugees and redefines women who are on the edge of society.

Stitch began with one woman and now involves more than 50. As Stitch expanded, it became possible for the women to begin to earn money for themselves and their families. This gave them the opportunity to expand their English skills, drastically strengthen their sense of community, establish relationships with other refugee women and have a economical sustainability.

With better English-speaking skills and more confidence, the women are able to go out into the workforce and more easily integrate into society.

The women learn business skills by working on consignments and having a financial gain from them, and sometimes simply by learning how the process of this type of organization operates.

Stitch Buffalo holds free weekly workshops every Thursday morning from 9:30 a.m. to noon. It also plans to host "Stitch Saturdays" – a six-week embroidery workshop.

Stitch Buffalo recently was given a new location at 1215 Niagara St. This space will be used to expand the workshops and also serve as a retail space.

Stitch Buffalo is always looking for supplies such as beads, yarn, needles and sewing supplies and any donation would be greatly appreciated.

Ani DiFranco once said, "I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap."

The population of our city is made up of people from vastly different backgrounds, nationalities and religions; what we have in common and where we "overlap" is in our need for safety, security and love.

Skye Khan is a sophomore at Nardin Academy.


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