Refugee has sew much fun

Before Zahra Haydar Big moved to Shepparton in 2008, she had never used an electric sewing machine. Back in Afghanistan, the women were only accustomed to using old, manual machines that needed to be wound by hand.

“I felt scared the first time I used (an electric sewing machine),” the mother-of-one said. She runs an Afghan women’s craft group, with the help of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District.

The group’s main aim is to reduce the social isolation of newly-arrived women, who often do not go to school or work. It is a feeling Ms Haydar Big can personally attest to. “For the first two or three months I was here, I wished I was back home,” she said.

“I felt really lonely and I had no friends, but then I got involved in activities with the ethnic council and my community.”

Ethnic Council refugee community project officer Bianca Berzani said the group mostly made traditional clothing for their families.

“It’s much cheaper to make it themselves than to import it, which is very expensive,” Ms Berzani said. “But the intention is not just to make clothing, but also to interact with other community members, learn English and increase their confidence and life skills.”

Ms Berzani said women of any nationality, and their children, were welcome to join. Women from Thai, Italian and Australian backgrounds attend the group. The organisers hoped to expand the group to involve more members and a wider range of topics than craft, including health, justice and consumer affairs.


Afghan womens craft groupCathy Boxall and Deb Henbie, helpers Zahra Haydar Big and Sakina Mohammad Gan

Article and image courtesy Shepparton News

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