The 370 Afghan refugees who have settled in Connecticut over the past nine weeks have many needs, from arranging transportation to securing basic household items such as vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens. But for women who came to the United States after the Taliban took over, one of the most pressing demands is for sewing machines and fabric so they can create the modest tunics they prefer to wear. .
“Among other challenges they face is not finding clothes they’re comfortable wearing here,” said Laura Kasowitz, owner of Hartford Stitch, a sewing school in West Hartford. “But they can sew them.”
Kasowitz and a group of volunteers helping refugees resettle in central Connecticut collect sewing machines, fabric, scissors, needles, thread and other sewing tools.
“I put out a request to my community and within two days I had promised six to eight sewing machines,” Kasowitz said. “The sewing community is really generous.”
Adrian Brown, a West Hartford volunteer who helps refugees, launched an appeal for fabric on a local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group, where people donate and receive items they no longer need.
She received dozens of responses, with people offering thread, sewing machines, fabric and irons. “People want to help,” Brown said. The owners of Affordable Fabrics, a Rocky Hill retailer, have also pledged to donate materials for use by women.
Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a resettlement agency with offices in New Haven and Hartford, said providing Afghan women with the tools to make their own clothes was essential.
“Anytime you can help refugees do the things they used to do, were comfortable doing and have great expertise, it’s a real plus for them adjusting to a new country,” George said.
“There is not a single refugee in the world who can flee their country with a sewing machine under their arm,” George added.
Thousands of Afghans fled their country when the Taliban abruptly took power over the summer. They started arriving in Connecticut in September.
The 370 people who have been resettled in the state so far is a huge spike, George said.
“Three hundred and seventy would be a huge number for a 12 month period. We did it in just over two months,” he said.
George expects another 200 to 300 Afghan refugees to arrive in the state by the end of the year.
Church organizations and community groups are supporting about 50 families, providing everything from child booster seats to transportation to medical appointments. The others are helped by volunteers like Brown.
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Brown said she relies on the refugees to tell her what they need “and they have a lot right now.”
Some resettlement groups have held clothing drives, but many women arriving from Afghanistan are in the habit of making their own clothes. They prefer a modest knee-length tunic made of cotton fabric.
“They can’t find those at Target,” Brown said.
Sewing can also be therapeutic.
“They’re cut off from their families and they’re worried,” she said. “And so many aspects of our life here are completely new to them.
“They are all survivors and they are resilient. They’re good at asking for what they want, and what they want right now is sewing machines.
To donate a working sewing machine, fabric or sewing tools, please contact Adrian Brown at [email protected].