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Charlotte's refugee women knit a future together

Knit together 1
Kayla Young
Misgana Gebremedhin displays a purse she created for the Knit Together Group.

Every Thursday morning, women from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and elsewhere, gather at the ourBRIDGE for KIDS building in east Charlotte to knit and crochet.

The group, organized by Refugee Support Services, is in part a workforce development initiative. For many of the women who participate, it’s also their support network and their first source of income in the United States.

“It is a holistic program and it is designed to be workforce development, meaning that eventually some of the women will go off and be able to have their own jobs,” said program coordinator Annie Koch.

“Our hope is that possibly with their skills, their knitting and crocheting, that they'll be able to start their own businesses. That's what I would like to see.”

Kayla Young
Program coordinator Annie Koch teaches the group about business concepts like marketing and product quality control.

When these women gather, they don’t just learn knitting patterns. They also learn about business. They receive free English lessons. And down the hall, there’s a daycare.

Present at this particular session are women from Myanmar, Eritrea and Iraq.

Amel Al-Karkhi, who was a seamstress in Iraq, attends the knitting sessions with her granddaughter Fatimah Abd Alglel, a student at East Mecklenburg High School.

She interprets Arabic for her grandmother, who is learning English through the group.

“When she was little, she always wanted to knit. And basically she just learned,” Abd Alglel said. “She just [observed] other people and then she learned how to knit by herself. So, no one taught her.”

The group gives Al-Karkhi a social and creative outlet. It also provides her a small income.

“When she came together with everyone, you know, they're like her family and she learned a lot about them,” Abd Alglel said.

Kayla Young
Amel Al-Karkhi begins working on a hat, while her granddaughter, Fatimah Adb Alglel, sorts through knitting supplies

Misgana Gebremedhin, from Eritrea, describes the group as a family as well. The connections help boost her spirit, after the loneliness and difficulty of living as a refugee.

“It feels like you have family, you have a group. You talk with them and they share with you,” she said.

Gebremedhin, a mother, is able to participate in the group because of the Love & Learn preschool program, located just down the hall.

“For me, it gives me peace of mind to work with a group like this because my baby is with me,” said Gebremedhin. “For mothers and kids, I would say, [it’s a] special group.”

Her hope is that the market opportunities for Knit Together will grow, as the women learn more about business.

“My goal is to get better places to sell and then [grow] my talent,” she said. “I need to learn a lot of things from them. And then they want to learn a lot of things from me. We're going to grow together.”

For each item sold, the women earn a profit. At the end of the morning, program coordinator Annie Koch explains the system to one of the new members.

“We get $10 a hat. And I'm giving out checks,” Koch said. “She turned in three hats. So, she gets $30 and we will pay that on Sept. 1.”

The Knit Together program relies on volunteers to operate and accepts donations, such as yarn, to keep the products profitable. The items can be found at craft markets across Charlotte and by contacting Refugee Support Services.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte.