I have lived and worked cross-culturally for thirty years. One of the major hurdles both for me as I worked overseas and for those I work with stateside is language. It would be hard to express all that must go into language study. We raised our children overseas. We told them on numerous occasions that we could not understand all they were going through as “third culture kids,” since we were born and raised in basically the same place. However, they could not understand what it was like for us to leave all we had ever known and venture into a world where we understood nothing….not culture, not language, not food, not money. Nothing! That is why we have such an understanding and love for refugees.
We have, without the trauma, lived some of what they experience when they arrive in the United States. Because we have traveled to many different countries, we understand what they left and what caused them to leave. Most refugees are not here because they wanted to just move to a better place, but because their circumstances gave them no choice.
When Sis and I began developing the vision for Threads by Nomad we wanted to be able to acknowledge and uplift the gifts, talents, and skills of refugees without making the process difficult for them. Inherent in this would be the principle that refugees can thrive even if they don’t speak the language. So the quest to find a refugee with the skills needed began and speaking English was not a requirement. Oy vey! Let the fun begin!
We partner with a refugee agency in Houston, Interfaith Ministries. When we first mentioned the project to them they began thinking of who might fit in with our vision. Eventually they sent us a name: Atia. Atia arrived to our first interview with her son who would translate. Yes, she could sew. What exactly? Men’s pants, women’s skirts and blouses, etc. Could she embroidery? Absolutely! Does she know how to use a serger? Of course! We agreed that she would come to my house to work on a couple of garments and I would evaluate her work. I called on a friend, Parvin, to come and help me with translation. Even though Parvin’s English is limited, we are friends and we have figured out how to communicate. I am so glad for friends like Parvin!
Parvin and me on her most recent visit to Houston!
Atia arrived and was immediately more comfortable because Parvin was there and could communicate with her. However, something became quickly apparent. There had been some miscommunication! Yes, Atia could sew. Yes, she could use a serger. But she had never actually cut and pieced a garment. She was part of an assembly line that sewed garments already cut! Now what do we do? Atia had said she could embroidery. We gave her our logo and asked her to trace and hand embroider the logo on our clothing label. Beautiful! We agreed with Atia that she would contract with us to do our logos. However, we still needed a tailor. Stay tuned for The Interview: Part Two!