HOUSTON— Every year, thousands of foreigners are granted refugee status by the United Nations and then sent here. Many of those newcomers are women who have been oppressed. One group is helping to turn them into independent entrepreneurs.
Some of the women endured decades of hardships in camps before the United Nations sent them to Houston as official refugees. Houston is one of America’s major resettlement cities.
“Houston is very big city and is beautiful,” said Ilham Dawood, who came here from Iraq.
She brought with her the ability to knit. She and dozens of other skilled women sell what they make and keep 100 percent of the profits. They do it through a group called The Community Cloth. It was started three years ago by refugees who approached the executive director of Our Global Village, an international grass roots leadership organization. They asked her for help and guidance in selling their wares in this foreign land.
“They came to us and they said, ‘We want an opportunity to sell our products and we don’t want a handout,’" recalled Roxanne Paiva, co-founder of The Community Cloth.
The items that the women make end up in high end boutiques like One Green Street in the Heights. They are also sold in the gift shops of The Methodist Hospital, Kuhl-Linscomb, Brazos Bookstore, Houston Museum of Natural Science and at local bazaars.
You can also buy items on The Community Cloth’s website.
“I’m really big on women’s micro economics and how they can make a difference by making these wonderful things,” said customer Linda Paukune. “It would be really expensive in a store. We’re getting a great bargain price.”
The women who make the products get a lot more than money from the sales.
“Oftentimes these women have never earned money,” Paiva said. “It’s really neat to see them grow in their confidence, to try and to make new products to take to market.”
“I am happy,” said Radhika Kalikotay, who came to Houston from Bhutan. She said she is also glad that she can make her products at home.
Hand woven scarves may sell for as much as $65. Typically when refugees arrive in Houston they are only provided financial support for a few months, Paiva said.
The women who are part of The Community Cloth are able to become self-sufficient or provide supplemental income for their families. They are able to pay rent, buy groceries and buy medicine, Paiva said.
To shop or get more information visit: thecommunitycloth.org
For more information about Our Global Village visit: ogvillage.org