International Center to offer sewing class, celebrate skills

Megan Cole

Through the International Center of Kentucky, Bowling Green has become a place where many who are resettled in the United States seek refuge when they flee their home country.

During the struggle to integrate into an entirely new culture, many creative abilities can be pushed aside rather than given dignity and celebration.

Natalie Martin, WKU alumna, has plans to change that with a new sewing class at the International Center of Bowling Green, open to refugees who call Bowling Green their new home.

Martin says that the process of the International Center is to help refugees become self-sufficient within roughly 180 days including a job placement.

One of the places the International Center has connections with and receives job references from is Fruit of the Loom, which has jobs with sewing skill requirements.

“I could do arts and crafts and fun things, but I wanted to teach something more practical,” Martin said. “The goal is to help some women find full-time employment, or help stay-at-home moms earn a little extra money for their family or even teach them how to alter their kid’s clothes.”

Ma Pa Wa, a native from Kawkareik in Myanmar, moved to Bowling Green nine years ago as a refugee from the civil war in Burma.

Living with her family and three children, Ma Pa Wa says she sews clothes for her family and friends as her job.

“I started sewing when I was 17 years old in my country,” she said. “It was my job and I would sew traditional Burmese clothes.”

Ma Pa Wa said she hopes to work as a seamstress for a very long time.

“I love to sew and it helps my family and community,” she said. “It also helps my kids and I want them to have a good life here in the US.”

Martin said she knew many men and women with similar stories to Ma Pa Wa who are currently residing in and coming to Bowling Green.

“Most are fleeing war and violence, and we don’t acknowledge often where they are coming from,” Martin said. “Because of that, we forget that they are seeking a place of refuge and safety.”

As a follower of Christ, Martin said she believes we are called to welcome and to love our neighbors. She said it is written throughout the Bible in the Old and New Testaments, and this has been her motive to be involved with the refugee population.

“There are such great parallels to the physical refugees here and how we have all needed welcoming,” Martin said. “I know that I identify with that spiritually as I have sought refuge and a safe place.”

Martin says she feels there is a strong calling on not just Christians but people in the community to love and welcome these people who are fleeing war.

“Before knowing someone we have a tendency to place unfamiliar people in an unrelated place in our mind but we are forgetting what they are coming from in their countries and what they are looking for in the United States,” she said.

The goal is to welcome them and celebrate their skills through the class, Martin said. This will help them find jobs while teaching them a practical skill they can use at home and in the workplace.

“Our goal is to create a sense of community and empower the women by providing a skill class that may be relative to background skills,” Emily Hurt, International Center volunteer coordinator, said.

Martin said sewing has been one of the most practical skills she has ever learned; she learned in third grade from her mom and picked it up as a hobby during her teen and college years.

“I’ve been able to earn money selling ties and bow ties, and am now working on sewing garments,” Martin said. “My hope is to be able to get a group of women together to do the same for them with whatever they are most comfortable with and talented in sewing.”

Martin said for the class they already have roughly six sewing machines and garments, but are still in need of thread, pins, and scissors, as well as ironing boards and irons.

“The goal is to get them in the direction of self sufficiency,” Martin said. “That’s the goal.”

Reporter Megan Cole can be reached at 270-745-2655 and megan.cole77[email protected].