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Women working as part of the sewing room project to create a variety of clothing, jewelry and accessories, learning valuable life skills and earning a profit.

A recently launched sewing program from a Clarkston nonprofit is bridging the gap for refugees between potential and realized skills.

The sewing room project rolled out in January of this year as an expansion of the services offered by the Amani Women Center — a Clarkston-based nonprofit that educates and empowers refugee and immigrant women with culturally sensitive tools that contribute to their overall well-being.

Founder Doris Mukangu said since starting the center ten years ago, she realized there was a great deal of untapped potential in the women she serves.

“All many of these women need is an opportunity and some guidance,” she said. “I saw a chance to expand our service and a tell a new story — that these women are not a drain on resources, but an asset.”

The program started with simple beadwork, meeting in the homes of program members. As they began taking their projects to various festivals around Atlanta, Mukangu said the reception was overwhelmingly positive.

“People were so impressed by these women’s stories of resilience and the high-quality products they made,” she said. “So, I spent time and came up with this program.”

The idea behind the program is to provide uniquely challenged women with skills and guidance to make something profitable.

Mukangu said thousands of refugees and immigrants have resettled in the surrounding communities, with many of the women being stay-at-home mothers.

“Many women have children and cannot work or do not want to,” she said. “This is right in their backyard and we pick them up in the mornings and take them back home.”

While the center is located in Clarkston, the sewing room is located on the Memorial Presbyterian Church campus in nearby Stone Mountain. The church has provided the center with two rooms to use, Monday through Saturday each week — with Tuesdays off.

With the space provided and the amount of resources available, the program can currently accommodate 15 women, and there is a large waiting list. Already the women in the program represent a wide variety of cultures, with women from Burma, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Eritrea and the Congo all taking part.

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A small shop inside the Amani Women Center’s Clarkston office where a variety of items made by sewing program participants are on display.

The women are making all sorts of items including jewelry, skirts, shirts, dresses and purses. The products are all made from recycled cloth, beads and seeds and are sold at festivals around Atlanta as well as in several boutiques.

The proceeds from each item sold are split between the center, to support its programming, and the item’s maker, Mukangu said.

Mukangu would like for that to grow, but said the center will need some help getting there.

She said in addition to monetary donations to support the free program, the center is in need of more sewing machines; volunteers to help drive women to-and-from the sewing center; and volunteers to help read to children while their mothers are at work.

For the summer, the program is expanding to allow young girls the chance to learn valuable sewing skills as well.

In addition to the sewing project, the center hosts a variety of workshops and programs to assist women — from helping navigate the healthcare system to providing community garden space to work in.

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