In August of 2017 we all watched in horror as the Rohingya were driven from their homes and homeland in Myanmar and fled to Bangladesh. Humanitarian aid was sent and reporters flocked to the scene. Incredibly hundreds of thousands of refugees remain in impermanent settlements in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. The UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar found this latest persecution of the Rohingya to be a “widespread and systematic attack on [civilians]” including “murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, and enslavement”
The largest site, the Kutupalong Balukhali Expansion Site, hosts approximately 626,500 Rohingya as of early 2019.
One small pocket of hope in this humanitarian disaster, lies in a women’s sewing cooperative called Testimony Tailors. We heard from this group around the holidays, and their story warmed hearts half way around the world. Testimony Tailors’ initiative goes well beyond the usual practice of delivering ‘humanitarian aid’ and instead allows a unique blend of employment, skill-building, cooperative-building and healing, all in the form of a tailoring group. Starting with requests for donors to buy sewing machines, the initiative employs girls and young women who have suffered sexual violence, allowing them a safe place to work and gather and to tell their stories—and to heal.
Beyond the work, the beautiful dresses are stitched for other young people in the community. They are all the more exquisite because the pattern and style are chosen by the women, rather than shipped as hand-me-downs from the U.S. and Europe. These are dresses of beautiful floral prints, made new and made with love by peers of the girls and women who receive the dresses free of charge. Each recipient receives a photograph of herself in the new dress. Several stories indicate that young girls who may have had no choice other than to marry at a young age in order to survive without a family in the camps with them, have been able to stay independent because of their employment by the cooperative, Testimony Tailors. It is the first of its kind, where people around the world can buy a product that is made by a refugee to be given to a refugee and all the profits will benefit those refugees.
The latest news from Testimony Tailors states that the Sunflower Sewing Club was developed for girls too young for employment. The Sewing Club makes mobiles and other arts and crafts to beautify the days of the younger girls.
By Meg Wirth
Photo from Testimony Tailors, Bangladesh
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