By Patrick Murray
A current Canisius College Enactus project, SewREDI Buffalo, has devised an innovative method for helping refugees earn their own source of income. Its three-part mission of sewing skills education, community outreach, and economic empowerment assists refugees from countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Thailand with assimilating into Buffalo’s West Side community. Every Saturday from 10:00a.m. to 1:00p.m. in the basement of the Catholic Charities building on Herkimer St., refugees are instructed on how to sew and design their own products. SewREDI Buffalo provides all of its clients with sewing lessons, a personal sewing machine, and the needed materials for each product. Cultural barriers are virtually erased during the hustle and bustle of a typical SewREDI work day as Canisius College students and community volunteers interact with a diverse group of refugees.
SewREDI Buffalo had a successful sale at Canisius College on November 16 as part of International Education Week. The Canisius Enactus project sold a variety of entirely handmade products. The favorites among Canisius students and faculty were Buffalo-themed key fobs, zipper pouches, and tablet cases. The pop-up shop outside the Student Center was staffed by Ronald Gombe, a Canisius basketball player and Enactus member originally from Kenya; Patrick Murray, a Canisius College Enactus student who is the current project manager of SewREDI Buffalo; and Khee La, a refugee from Thailand who now lives in Buffalo’s West Side community.
“I am so excited that I sold my first product today,” says Khee, speaking of the Buffalo key fobs she sold at Canisius. “My son will be happy when I tell him!” Like her fellow SewREDI clients, she is eager to work and attentive to detail.
When speaking of the project’s clients, Gombe alludes to a core principal of Enactus: “Don’t give them fish; teach them how to fish.” He goes on to further say, “Most of these refugees, if not all, were well-established with homes, families, and a source of income–however small–in their home countries. By fleeing their country, they automatically lost everything and are now back to zero for a fresh start. It is therefore important to help them, because they have skills and the ability to contribute to the local economy just like they did back in their country. SewREDI therefore plays a major role in helping these refugees get back on their feet and establish themselves once again.”
SewREDI’s next sale is at Rich Products on December 7th from 11:00am-2:00pm.The current inventory showcases a wide array of entirely handmade products, many of which would make for great stocking stuffers and gifts during this holiday season. SewREDI’s ecommerce outlet on etsy.com offers everything from Buffalo-themed accessories, such key fobs and zipper pouches, to stylish crossbody and tote bags. Because SewREDI is staffed entirely by volunteers, the refugee who made each item receives 100% of the profit from each purchase.
The project was started several years ago by a Dr. Hutton, a Canisius economics professor and former Canisius Enactus student. Since it’s inception, the initiative has undergone several adjustments, yet has continued to stay true to its mission of serving its refugee clients. Local volunteers like Julie Gee, a crafter and human resources professional, as well as Tom Wolf, professional photographer and Canisius College professor, have contributed immensely towards the project’s recent success. Witnessing both a recent increase in sales and attendance, SewREDI is on track to expand within the coming year.
Browse SewREDI’s wide variety of handmade products available on its ecommerce platform at www.SewREDI.etsy.com