A special thank you to IWF Grant Partner Nisaa for sharing more about the Friendship Sewing Cooperative program and writing this blog. Please visit their website to learn more about this wonderful organization: http://nisaa-afs.org/. 

Nisaa Friendship Sewing Cooperative

Friendship Sewing Cooperative is a program created by Nisaa for African immigrant women to learn to use sewing machines and gain skills to create their own culturally-appropriate clothing. For participants who face daily oppressions—this class has acted as a weekly relief from those struggles.

FSC has two sessions and two teachers. Class is held once a week in a great location easily accessible by participants. The sewing classes are free of charge, and material is provided for them to use. There are three programs: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Once the participants have mastered basic sewing skills and how to operate their machine, they move on to their own projects, which include pillow cases, quilts, and culturally specific clothing such as skirts. After participants have completed the advanced class, they receive a certificate of completion.

Building a Support Network

FSC was created to help women to overcome their social isolation. When coming to the United States, immigrant women lose their circle of relatives and friends. In some cases, their spouses take advantage of this, creating abusive relationships. FSC is meant to help women gain a set of sewing skills so they can have their own business and won’t have to depend entirely on their husbands or stay in abusive relationships for the sake of money. This program also helps survivors find support and joy because the community sometimes ostracizes victims if they rebel against abuse. Moreover, the goal is to help women to become self-sufficient. In the future, participants would like to be able to sell the products that they make, creating an additional opportunity to use their newly gained skills and provide income for their families. FSC also provides support socially by creating a circle of friends who have fun while working on projects and creating a support system for the women in the group.

Nisaa & the Iowa Women’s Foundation

Nisaa staff learned about IWF from Meena Kandelwal, a professor at the University of Iowa who helped Nisaa staff to apply for the IWF grant. With Meena’s help, Nisaa was able to get the grant and start preparing and working on all of the details for the program. The Iowa City office has many volunteers who are students and most of them are from the immigrant’s community. Participants are from many different countries. Some are from the same communities as other participants. Volunteers help with babysitting during the classes and budgeting at the end of each term.

This program is important because it creates a safe space that nurtures community, support, and the gaining of knowledge. The participants of the program gain a valuable set of skills to give them the ability to further themselves. They learn basic sewing skills through an interactive setting. The program also acts as a support group. The participants have voiced their happiness with the program for being a safe space, a space for knowledge, a space for community, and in turn, a space for healing.

The funding from IWF has entirely made the class possible, from the rent for the space and purchasing materials and sewing machines, to the ability to compensate teachers for their time. Had it not been for the IWF funding, the class would only have been an idea rather than a reality.

After taking the class, one of the participants said, “After I learned to sew, I can take care of my traditional dress alteration and I don’t need to pay for that.” Another suggested to go to a retail store and present their products for the store to sell. Another commented, “I feel now like I have my own community where we learn, have skills, and eventually we make a profit.”

The strength in community that the participants have built has been a pleasant surprise. They confide in each other, they teach each other new things they have learned, they give each other rides, and they have created sincere friendships. In addition, two men joined FSC which was a huge surprise for Nisaa and the women themselves.