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African Family Support Group learns English, sewing thanks to grant

by Rhonda Lakatos, Chairperson Tri-Presbytery SDOP Committee (San Jose, San Francisco, Redwoods Presbyteries) and Clara Nunez


A sample of some of the items the women sewed and sold at the holiday fair.

The African Family Support group project was born out of the African Community Health Institute.  The Family Support Group was previously supported by our Tri-Presbytery (San Jose, San Francisco and Redwoods, California) SDOP Committee. This group of women decided that they could improve their lives and help their families if they learned to sew.  The group reached out to the wider community (primarily Stone Church of Willow Glen in San Jose, CA) to see if we knew of a sewing teacher who could help them learn, and “by the way” they didn’t have sewing machines.

The women of Stone Church found through their networks a wonderful sewing teacher and a number of others subscribed. Five identical machines were purchased for the class.  That was more than a year and a half ago. In that time the women have increased their skills, sold items at two holiday craft fairs and made money to give 50 percent stipends to women who raised the other 50% so they could own similar sewing machines.  Now there are new women joining the class and older students are helping them learn. It has been very gratifying.

In addition, the refugee women have made some friends in the wider culture, practiced their English together and established a safe, friendly place where religion (some are Christian and some Muslim) and country (some are from Ethiopia and some from Eritrea – longtime rivals) are set aside and a group of women enjoy their weekly time improving their skills.  It’s all good and it happened in part because of the SDOP funding.

Now with the funding from National SDOP I know the good things will expand even more. In January 2015, the group received a $15,000 grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People at the national level. The grant will assist the women in building a strong social support system through language classes, vocational training, social networking, fitness classes and health education.

The senior members of the group have started receiving fitness classes (stress exercise, yoga and meditation). These classes give members physical strength which helps to alleviate the pain from arthritis and other ailments. Their health has improved. Members are part of social activities such as traditional tea and coffee ceremonies and they get together to celebrate special occasions. The group members engaged in discussions where they share day to day challenges and learn mechanisms to deal with those challenges through peer-to-peer support and shared experiences.

English as a second language conversation classes help members to become independent in daily activities such as taking public transportation, going out shopping, and socializing without feeling isolated.  With the nutrition and health education program members with chronic illnesses are educated in ways to improve their eating habits. Other members have been attracted to the health education program. For them, early intervention and prevention of illnesses classes were created. The classes teach nutrition education, cooking and shopping tips for healthy eating habits and how to read labels.

“In this class, we have seen dramatic health improvement of four members who were diabetic and hypertensive to the level of discontinuing their medication.” Manna Teclemariam, member of the group.

Members of the group are refugees; many of them have escaped countries submerged in war. They have mental health problems because of the horrors of the war and they fear prosecution. Many not feel safe sharing their pictures on the internet.

 “This unique project is possible with the generous funding from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People as well as dedicated volunteers.” Says Manna.

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