Re:new: A Story of Community at its Deepest Levels
By Hannah Towler
“I came to America after being in Dadaab for 10 years. I walked from Somalia to Kenya. In the dark place of the trees the lions were waiting for me. They were very close. I put dirt in my baby’s mouth to hush that baby from crying and being eaten. When we crossed the rivers, many people died. I had a baby on my back, and two at my feet and two at my knees and one at my shoulders. One was rumbling inside me. The two at my feet died and the one on my back died. I laid that small one on the road and kept walking. During my journey I was scared. When I crossed the border I was raped. On the other side the camp was big with people. I stayed there for a long many days, many times the year changed and I stayed.”
This is a single story that represents many women who were once refugees, and are now living in Wheaton, Ill. The woman who once lived this story is finding peace and solace in a place called Re:new, a community of 20 students and 18 volunteers working together to find hope through recycling and recreating.
Rebecca Sandberg is the director at the sewing school/shop located in Wheaton. Her Re:new story began when she arrived home from a five-year stay in Nairobi, Kenya. Through her years of working with the refugees there, she gained a new understanding of those suffering from disease and injustices. “Over the years, my definition for ‘refugee’ had been added to and was now three-dimensional,” she says. “A refugee is someone who, because of being persecuted for the reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality.”
The Re:new Project began in 2009 when a group of women came together with a vision for holistic renewal for the refugee women in their area. Many churches near Wheaton sponsored refugee families from Africa, and the churches held free English classes for them. Re:new was formed to teach one-on-one sewing classes to some of the refugee women.
“It was very meaningful to them,” human resource coordinator and Re:new teacher, Martha Bunch recalls. “One woman cried at the ceremony, surrounded by all of her female relatives. She held up her graduation certificate, and said ‘In my home country, a female’s name is not allowed on any legal document. Now in America, my name is on my own paper!’”
Re:new created hope for her. Re:new gave her skills in sewing and earning a living, and brought her confidence in herself.
Re:new has expanded immensely since its beginning. What started as a small room with only a few sewing machines has tripled in size. The organization now has 13 part-time employees and more than a dozen students from Somalia, Turkey, Nepal, Iraq, Bhutan, Sudan and Tanzania.
“It is fascinating to see what we have in common with these women: love for our children, our parents, satisfaction in a job well done, pride in accomplishment, even pleasure in eating an apple, or drinking hot chocolate,” says Bunch. She may only get an ounce of English out of her students each day, and they may not accept any “religious talk,” but Bunch continues to represent her God in the best way she knows how.
Re:new’s story is one about bringing encouragement and life to those who seem to have lost it. It is about living in community and learning from those surrounding you. The Re:new Project is about how God can take seemingly empty hands and fill them with craft, with passion and with new life.
To learn more about Re:new, and to view some of their products, visit them on the web at www.renewproject.org