5 January 2023

Textile program helping Wagga refugee women fight isolation

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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woman and sewing machine

Nangshar Marangdung moved from Myanmar in 2022 and is enjoying the textile program. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga’s Common Threads Project is a textile program aimed at combating isolation among participants as they develop valuable skills.

Multicultural Council community development officer Tom Payton was approached by several members of different communities to start a textile program.

Mr Payton said the program, which began in 2018, was a connection point for people to develop their creative skills.

“Through the initiative, we had a lot of local services visit us to talk about the different programs and opportunities they provide,” he said.

READ ALSO Escaping persecution to call Wagga home

“It provided a central point to growing social networks and engagement.”

Mr Payton said in the project’s initial phase, between 2018 and 2020, it attracted 70 participants from 14 cultural backgrounds.

The development officer of six years said the scheme was vital for the community.

“It is really important … the figures of 70 people participating from 14 different cultural backgrounds showed a genuine interest, both in the skills being taught and that need for connection.”

Mr Payton said some participants had gone on to benefit from links to work within textile repair shops.

“One of our key members started working with Katrina Riley Curtains and Blinds,” he said.

three women and sewing material

Textile program participant Bizar Hasan, NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors project officer Ali Reid, and volunteer Ruth Thompson. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

“It started from the social element but also provided pathways to employment.”

Nangshar Marangdung, who came to Wagga in 2022 from Myanmar, said despite finding the weather to be “very cold”, she believed the move was good for her family.

“It’s good for us … very free and happy,” Nangshar said.

Nangshar’s hobby is sewing, and she enjoys the Multicultural Office’s textile program.

“I’m excited to be here … we get to learn about what we need to do and improve our life,” she said.

Yazidi woman Shireen Omar has been in Australia for six years after moving from Iraq.

woman using sewing machine

Shireen Omar moved to Australia six years ago from Iraq. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Shireen loves coming to the sewing group as she gets to make new friends and practise her English.

“I’m very happy … it’s like sewing at home,” said Shireen, who also has extensive sewing experience.

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) project officer Ali Reid says the service runs several community programs (textile and art) for women and wellbeing programs.

STARTTS is also involved in many community development activities by partnering with organisations such as the Multicultural Office.

Ms Reid said refugee women could be isolated because they hadn’t developed their English skills as quickly as their children.

“Their children have gone off to get jobs, and they [women] become quite isolated and tend to work within the home and not out in the community,” Ms Reid said.

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“This [the textile program] is an opportunity for them to mix with other women, practise their English with volunteers and feel part of the Wagga community.”

Ms Reid said she had a strong group of volunteers who helped her run the program.

It resumed after the COVID-19 lockdown, with participants attending classes once a week.

The Multicultural Council sought support from Wagga Wagga City Council’s annual grants program to buy equipment and materials.

To take part, members of the public are encouraged to contact the Multicultural Office on (02) 6921 6666.

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