The Amani Sewing Academy is a program of the Amani Women Center, a nonprofit located in Clarkston, Georgia, that provides culturally tailored programs and services that contribute to the economic security and spiritual, mental, and physical well-being of refugee and immigrant women.
The Amani Sewing Academy uses fiber arts to help refugee women overcome some of the most difficult challenges they face in their new lives, including economic insecurity and isolation.
Refugee men and children typically have a “way in” to their new society through jobs and school. There, they meet people, learn English, and become acclimated to the ins and outs of life in America.
At the Amani Women’s Center Boutique, all products are handmade by the students from the Amani Women’s Center Sewing Academy. Photo credit: Anne Zacharias-Walsh.
The situation is starkly different for women, especially for those coming from countries where women typically do not work outside the home. There is no direct pathway to becoming part of the community. With no job to go to, many refugee women spend their days isolated in their homes, with no one to talk to, no one to ask even the most basic newcomer questions like, How do I find a good doctor? and Where is the best grocery store? Over time the situation gets worse. While their husbands and children become increasingly integrated into their new communities, the women are left further and further behind.
The Amani Sewing Academy helps refugee women break the cycle of isolation by providing a safe space for them to gather, develop marketable sewing skills, and begin building a community of their own.
The sewing program provides opportunities, instruction, and materials for refugee women to work together to create unique textile products designed to reflect their home cultures. Some of their most popular creations include decorative home goods, clothing, purses, backpacks, and eyeglasses cases, all made primarily from traditional African cloth. (During the Covid-19 pandemic they made thousands of cloth masks, many of which were donated to essential workers in the community.)
Amani Founder and CEO Doris Mukangu, who is from Kenya, bestows an Amani Sewing Academy Certificate of Completion to gorgeously garbed Fatemeh from Afghanistan. Currently, Fatemeh is starting a home sewing business and returning to the Amani Sewing Academy for more advanced classes. Photo credit: Anne Zacharias-Walsh.
By the time they complete the program, Amani-trained women are qualified for employment in the garment industry, to set up home businesses, or to work with Amani’s small-scale manufacturing, where they will work under ethical conditions and earn livable wages.
But more than that, they are part of a caring community. Working side by side at the Sewing Academy, refugee women find comfort and support from other women with similar life experiences. Soon they begin sharing problems that before they were too shy, or ashamed, to bring up—problems such as rent and food insecurity, serious health issues, and domestic violence. Amani’s professional support staff can provide help with these issues. Members of the Sewing Academy have access to all of Amani’s programs, counselors, case workers, and community ambassadors who provide translation services in 12 different languages.
Amani Sewing Academy’s newest graduates relax following their graduation ceremony in September 2023. Many of the graduates wear their handmade, traditional clothing honoring their home countries. Every Amani Sewing Academy student receives a new Singer sewing machine upon graduation. Photo credit: Anne Zacharias-Walsh.
Two years ago, for example, a group of members empowered each other to begin talking about chronic health problems they suffered as a result of female genital cutting (FGC) in their home countries. These women desperately needed medical attention but lacked the funds and the knowledge to navigate the complicated healthcare system. Once the women started speaking out, Amani responded by developing the Save Our Sisters (SOS) program to raise funds and awareness about FGC. The support staff reached out to the local medical community to find practitioners with the expertise needed for that type of care. Initially, some of the women thought it was too much to hope for, but within one year, the first woman received reconstructive surgery, which she called “life-changing.”
The Fiber Art Now Gathering Grant will help expand enrollment for their next session. The Sewing Academy provides instructors, sewing machines, a fabric room and materials, and individual sewing kits for each student. Upon graduation, each woman receives a new Singer sewing machine to help her on her way. amaniwomencenter.org.
There are several ways to support the Amani Women’s Center.
- Donate: amaniwomencenter.org/donate/
- Purchase their handmade crafts: johariafrica.com/about-johari
- Amani Women’s Center – Amazon Wishlist: tinyurl.com/bddwh448
Cami Smith is the Fiber Art Now media manager, a contributing editor, and a mixed-media artist.
Top Image: Samira from Somalia pays close attention to details as she works on creating decorative cushion covers. Photo credit: Anne Zacharias-Walsh.