Refugees learning crafting skills can sell handmade wares at market
By Vincent T. Davis, Staff Writer
Stitch by stitch, Hauvung Ciin Ngaihte is sewing her way into the world of free enterprise.
She’s one of several refugees enrolled in a sewing class at the Center for Refugee Services near the South Texas Medical Center on the Northwest Side. When she was growing up, Ngaihte sewed simple things, but now she’s learning to make a variety of items that she offers for sale at the World Mosaic Market adjacent to the center.
And the good part for Ngaihte is that she’ll receive 70 percent of the profit from each sale of her handmade items.
The sale of items made by Ngaihte, 40, and her fellow students gives them a chance to supplement their incomes as they rebuild their lives in San Antonio. In 2006, Ngaihte fled her homeland of Myanmar with her husband to a refugee camp in Malaysia. She left behind a career as a nurse and days when the Army and the government discriminated against her and thousands of others because of their religion and tribe.
Now, almost five years later, she’s working to the hum of sewing machines, creating handmade wares and exploring paths to a profitable future.
“I love it. This is the first one to sell,” she said. “I love sewing class and our teacher. We learn a lot.”
The center sponsors the market stocked with wares created by impoverished women and men around the world as well as refugees living in the resettlement community. Volunteer Jean Sherrill founded the all-volunteer market that’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The market, located at 8703 Wurzbach Road, will be closed from Dec. 21 until Jan. 3.
Sherrill, who manages the store, said refugees can make even more than 70 percent from each sale of items made in sewing and jewelry classes if they use their own materials. The store’s share of the profits from the international crafts goes back to the center for its programs, including English as a Second Language classes, a food pantry, health and wellness classes, and job assistance.
Refugees who volunteer at the market are also learning business skills such as how to make change, work the cash register and price items.
“They’re very pleased to have the extra income because they can’t work,” Sherrill said, referring to the refugees who aren’t yet naturalized or don’t yet have a work permit. “It’s very rewarding. They are very appreciative that CRS has helped to make their transition to the states easier and successful. They have more personal confidence to have skills that are valued.”
Ngaihte just had a baby boy and became a U.S. citizen. Though busy caring for her newborn, she plans to continue honing her skills as a seamstress to gain earnings for her family.
“It’s not a little bit,” she said of her profits, smiling. “It’s a lot.”