At the Lutheran Community Sewing Group in suburban Adelaide, a volunteer team supports and teaches migrant women not only how to sew, but how to be valued, loved and to make sense of a new and alien world.
For almost 20 years coordinator Helen Semmler, 68, has run the group with a band of helpers. Weekly student numbers average 25, with almost as many volunteers from 10 different Lutheran congregations, as well as other Christians, non-Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.
‘The most important thing we do is equip the women with the skills and the confidence to achieve things, whether sewing projects or other goals’, Helen says.
Relationships built over needles and thread grow both ways. ‘We have learnt more from our women than we’ve taught them – more about patience and love’, she says. ‘I am also sure that we show the love of Christ to them in a way which words could not always convey.’
The group’s genesis came when Helen and husband Ken befriended Sudanese widow Monica, who had lived in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, supported by Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS). ‘I am a sewer, so when Monica came to our house and saw my sewing machines, she stood there like she had been blitzed by lightning’, recalls Helen.
In the past five years, the group’s association with ALWS has grown, including sewing 830 colourful bags for participants in Walk my Way, which supports refugee children to go to school. And, even though the group has been in recess due to COVID-19, a few members have been sewing hundreds of face masks for ALWS.
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