One Dallas Woman Has Formed a Community for Refugees Through Sewing
Stephanie Giddens and her family had planned to move to Kigali, Rwanda, six years ago. But 24 hours before they were set to ship their belongings, her husband’s job fell through, and so did her plans to help to create more educational and vocational opportunities for women there. “I had prepared my heart and mind to raise my children in Rwanda,” Giddens says. “To be staying in Dallas was a jolt to the system.” But then she began volunteering in a refugee community just five minutes from her home.
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“I realized the exact same needs are right here,” she says. “A lot of the women who come as refugees have little to no education, they don’t have access to jobs, and they really don’t have hope for a whole lot in America.”So she started Vickery Trading Company, a nonprofit social business that employs refugee women as seamstresses and provides a number of personal-development opportunities, like lessons in English and financial literacy. “Personal development is really the meat of the program,” notes Giddens. “We teach them professional-level sewing skills, and that’s great, but really, [the sewing] is a way for them to take a breath, earn money, and stabilize their families, while they’re learning all of the other important pieces that they need to live here.”
Her favorite part of the office is the Victory Wall, where the women’s achievements are posted each week. “When they first start the program, their victories will be what they consider smaller: ‘I spoke to the doctor in English’ or ‘I figured out how to use the public transportation system.’ But by the end, many of these women are buying houses, applying to colleges, and even teaching English to other refugees,” Giddens says. “[The Victory Wall] is this overwhelmingly positive picture of all that they’ve accomplished. They’re not just learning to sew and making income. They really have learned how to do life in the United States.”