Thursday, February 2, 2012

Valentine's Day Sale!

We have a Valentine's Day Sale which will be sponsored by Jericho Road church!  Nothing says "I love you, AND the world you live in!" like something handmade by refugees.

Date: February 11th from 1-4 p.m.
Location: 1220 S. Williston St., Wheaton.

Stop by to check out our latest inventory and get something for that special someone.  Side benefits include free snacks and hot drinks as well as free feelings of pride and global-connectedness with every purchase.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Short-notice Christmas Sale!

Date: Monday, December 19th

Location: World Relief Office
1825 College Ave, Wheaton

Time: 11:00-2:00

Tell your friends!

New sale items include fingerless ("texting") gloves, knit cowls, neckwarmers, and headbands!  Plus we'll have our latest stock of jewelry and the ever-popular trellis-yarn infinity scarves in a variety of colors.

Can't make it at that time but want to purchase presents before Christmas? Send us an email:, and we'll do our best to accommodate.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Taste of Heaven

All of our artisans are still learning English.  Most of them are currently in World Relief's ESL classes which meet at College Church. All of us Resilient Crafts founders are ESL teachers.  It's where we've recruited all of our artisans.  Friday was our end-of-year potluck and party.  I'm never sure what I'll find when I go to these parties.  I think sometimes what we teachers say is, "On Friday there's no class; it's the end-of-year party."  And what students hear is, "On Friday, there's no class," and they make a mental note not to come on Friday.  So some years have been less party-like than others.  But this was a good year--copious amounts of food, high attendance, happy students and teachers.
A moving performance of "One Little Duck"
We always start the program with music from the children's department.  It doesn't matter what country they're from, parents like to see their kids on stage, and preschoolers are always entertaining.
Note Resilent Crafts artisans Thin Mya (purple coat), Thwe Htoo (green sweater)  and Wah Koh (red sweater).
Nepali flautist
Next we had music from the Karen Burmese church choir, a solo from a Burundian student (complete with baby on her back), a few songs on the Nepali flute, and a guitar hymn from another Karen Burmese student. The music was all fantastic. It's incredible how musical styles can be so different, but each beautiful in a different way.

Burundian soloist

And the food.  Oh, the food.  Everything from Nepali spicy chow mein with saffron, briyani rice and beef from Iraq and Iran, Vietnamese and Burmese noodles with chicken, Ethiopian njera with burn-your-mouth-off stew, to the iconic 70's casserole complete with potato chips on top (who brought that?) and plenty more.  I don't teach ESL just for the food, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
After that we usually spend at least half an hour just taking pictures.  Students have brought their cameras and make full use of them.  Sometimes I feel like I should just stand still with my arm out and a smile pasted on, like a cardboard cut-out, and just let different students get their obligatory picture-with-the-teacher.  But it's fun, and there is generally a lot of laughing and joking and students taking pictures of each other that goes on at the same time.  We say our goodbyes like close relatives--and that's what it feels like after 250 plus hours of class time.

This new mother attended class up through the week of her due date.

This time of year I've noticed lots of local businesses, churches, townships modelling their own food-sampling day or potluck after Taste of Chicago.  Taste of Wheaton, Taste of Glen Ellyn, Taste of fill-in-the-blank-local-church...and so on.  Ours could be Taste of World Relief, or more ambitiously, Taste of the World.  But then we'd only be referring to the food.  Taken all together, the food, the music, the languages, cultures, and the sense of joyful communion--it really ought to be Taste of Heaven.  It's so much easier for me to imagine heaven after a day like yesterday.  So if you want to get your own glimpse of the eternal, just ask your local ESL teacher when the next party is.  I'm sure you'll be welcome.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Two Saturday Sales:
April 30, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
May 7, 1-5 p.m.
Both at Wheaton Evangelical Free Church
520 East Roosevelt Road, Wheaton

Stop by to meet some artisans and check out our latest in handmade jewelry, scarves, and woven bags!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Today teacher, tomorrow friend.

Our Christmas season was fantastic.  We had so many sales and sale offers we actually ended up having to turn down or postpone offers to host since we were running out of time and merchandise.  We sold the vast majority of our stock, which is great since we were running out of space to keep it all.  We had a sale almost every weekend beginning at the end of October.  Our most successful sales have always been open-house sales in which a family will host us in their home and invite their circle of friends and coworkers to come be a part of our cause.  This type of "globally conscious," "fair-trade goods" party has become increasingly trendy lately and Resilient Crafts is only too happy to give local families the chance to support a good cause.
Our artisans have certainly benefited.  As of yet none will be living off of what they made, but these are women who would not otherwise be contributing to their family's income at all.  So any amount they can bring in is a source of pride for them.  All of our ladies made some money, and some made a surprisingly large amount.  Each woman is given 50% of the proceeds from each item she makes when it sells.  We use the other 50% to purchase more materials.  So when we decide upon prices, we make sure that the artisan is given a fair amount and that RC will make back the cost of materials so that our program can be sustainable.

Beaders at work
This Saturday was the first time we were able to meet to craft in a few months.  Our artisans were very excited to begin again.  They've clearly missed the community of friends.  The majority of our women have very limited English language skills and we have at least 6 language groups represented, but it's been beautiful to see how unnecessary oral communication is to the growth of friendships.  As I picked up my carload of ladies on Saturday morning, they all greeted each other warmly by name, and when we got out at the church where we meet, a group of women who had already been dropped off began waving and calling out greetings as soon as they saw us.
This week we were unable to use the community room, so we used a classroom instead.  This move turned out to have a really positive effect on our meeting.  The classroom had much less space than the community room, which we coordinators thought might be a problem.  But we'd forgotten how most of the world's cultures desire much less personal space than the average American.  The atmosphere was so familial and pleasant it made me realize how much I missed meeting in Deoka's living room like we used to before we grew out of it.
We had two groups--the beaders and the knitters.  Some of our proficient knitters were teaching our knitting-beginners a new skill.  This called for a certain amount of role-reversal since the knitting teachers of this week were the beginning crocheters last time we met.  As a general rule, whoever is teaching something new in a given session gets called "teacher" for that day, which always results in a lot of giggling.  This gave rise to perhaps my favorite limited-English conversation to date.  Jeanette (Burundi) remarks to Hari (Nepal), "Today you teacher." Everyone giggles. Saraswoti (Nepal) from across the room says, "Today teacher?  Tomorrow friend." Everyone smiles and nods.
Hari and Jeanette
In that simple acknowledgement, Saraswoti was able to put to words the exact focus of our ministry.  We're giving these women a chance to be and to have teachers and friends.  I'm not sure I saw that so clearly myself until now.  I've actually felt bad in the past that I, not being a crafter, have nothing to teach them.  But how much more beneficial it is to have the ladies themselves able to take turns teaching what they know and learning from others.  Since they've come to the US, they've been nothing but learners, and during the week they are faithful ESL students.  Saturday is their day to take a turn as teachers, and tomorrow they'll be friends.
Thin Mya and Dil

The kids created masterpieces of their own.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I realize that most of my blog-readers are out of state and won't actually be able to make it to any of our local sales, but I figured they're worth announcing anyway.
And yes--to all who are wondering--we are working out how to sell online.  Everything goes in slow motion when everyone who is working on this project also works full time.  Our current hang-up is getting our non-profit checking account in working order.'ll happen someday.  I'll let you  know.
Until then: SALES!
1.  September 25 (YES--this weekend!) at Gifts of the World--a fair trade store in Schaumburg.  Resilient Crafts will be featured and will be giving a live weaving demonstration.  We'll also be serving Nepali tea which on its own is worth coming for.  We'll be there from 1 to 4.  The address is 888. S. Roselle Rd. Schaumburg, IL.
2.  We'll be hosted at a house sale in Aurora on November 14 from 2 to 6 pm.  Since it's a personal address, I won't be posting the directions here, but if you live in the area and would like to come, send us a note and I'll send them to you:
We'll be having quite a few sales this fall, especially approaching Christmas.  As soon as we nail down details, I'll be sure to post them as well.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We Weave!

We've recently discovered that a member of our group from Burma, Thin Mya, has experience weaving and has been wanting to weave here in the U.S. but never had the supplies.  Weaving was her source of income in the Thai refugee camp where she lived for 21 years.  We'd been looking for weavers, but until now hadn't found anyone with the inclination.  We also needed to find someone who knew how to make the backstrap looms they use.  As it turns out Thin Mya's husband Wah Koh is a loom-maker.  What a great pair!  Sue and Heather took the couple on a trip to Home Depot where they had a grand time buying the right supplies to make a backstrap loom.  We figured with their limited spoken English, it would be better to take them along to the store rather than try to have them describe the things they needed.  They totally enjoyed the outing and the Home Depot sales associate was completely charmed by these two new clients.  Wah Koh took the parts home and within a few days they had not only a new loom, but a new Karen-style bag to show for it.
Wah Koh also 'rescued' a broken crib and took it home to use to make more looms.  He told us he had enough wood to make 4 looms.  On her next visit, Heather even got a weaving lesson.

So I fully intended to update before our next sale, but Sue's church hosted one on such short notice I didn't get the chance.  Christ Community Mennonite Church--our parent organization for the time being, has been very supportive of our whole endeavor.  This past Sunday they had Sue give an update of our progress and hosted a small sale afterwards.  Some of the items we sold included our ubiquitous winter scarves--the staple at every sale--washcloths (made by beginning knitters), and flowers (made by beginning crocheters).  Our most exciting sale was that of our first woven bag.  It will be a gift for his daughter's birthday.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Latest and Greatest

It has been brought to my attention that it's been a while since my last blog entry.  So here's the latest:  We've found a sponsor.  We are now a ministry of Christ Community Mennonite Church in Schaumburg, IL.  What does that mean?  In short, we're legal. (Pause for cheering.)  The church has, in effect, lent us its non-profit status, which in addition to getting us tax-exempt status, allows us to receive tax-deductible donations.  Now when people write us checks, they write them payable to the church, then the church pays us.  It's a slower process than what we had been doing--paying the ladies in cash--but it's more reliable and keeps us out of trouble with the IRS.  Plus it forces the artisans to use a bank account, which is a new concept for many.  We'd like to get a little financial literacy training into the works since most of our artisans have never had a job here and have relied on others to keep their accounts.
We've also filed our name with the county, which was an interesting process.  We had to put an announcement in a local paper that we'd be doing business as Resilient Crafts.  So I'm sure all you avid readers of the Hinsdale Hinsdalean sat up and took notice.
Our next step legally will be to file for non-profit status on our own, but there are several things that need to happen before that.  We'll need to raise some funds to pay a lawyer to help us.  Some of that we'll be able to get via sales, and hopefully we can make up the rest in donations.  We may need as much as $3,000.  Ideally then we can apply for grants and possibly branch out into other areas of ministry as we see fit.
Our goal for the time being is to get some summer/fall sale locations.  We'll be hitting up all our contacts at local churches. Stay tuned for future sale announcements.  We've got some great new summer merchandise.  Our artisans have switched from knitting to jewelry-making for the summer.  It was a slow beginning because very few of our artisans had any experience, but now that they've learned a few basic skills, their innate senses of artistry are starting to come out.  Several have been coming up with their own designs and we're happy to let them do their thing.  Our role now tends to be giving advice on which colors do and don't go well together for an American eye.  I never knew how nuanced color tastes can be.  We try to encourage creativity while making sure our products our sale-worthy.
During the winter we outgrew the apartment living room we were meeting in.  We now meet in the community room of Christ Community Church in Wheaton.  They've been very gracious to allow us to use the space and keep a lot of our stuff there.  It has the added bonus of having fresh coffee (pause for another cheer) and childcare rooms available so the women can bring their kids and pretty much forget about them for a few hours.  I imagine it's a lovely break for the moms.
The church has also plowed up a significant portion of its 'back 40' to have a community garden for refugees. Many of our artisans and their families have their own plot and have started growing vegetables.  So now our Saturdays always begin with us all checking up on the gardens, tracking the progress of everyone's tomatoes, peppers, mustard greens, eggplants, and more.  The families are very appreciative.  Most of them live in apartments surrounded by parking lots and miss being able to grow their own food.  Now they walk to the church when the weather permits and work in the garden.

I'll post again when we nail down the date of our next sale.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Community

I learned how to knit this weekend.  It's not really something I'd ever pictured myself learning until pretty recently.  But now that I've learned, I really see how relaxing it can be.  I thought it might be monotonous, and it probably would be if you did it alone, but in a roomful of people, it's a different matter.

When I arrive at our crafting meetings every Saturday morning at around 9:30, there's a definite order to things.  I come in, greet the family and any other attenders who have come early, and shed a few layers of winter outerwear.  I'm not on the couch two minutes before Deoka or Goma comes out of the kitchen with hot chai.  Over the next half hour or so, the other crafters wander in, and the conversation consists mostly of greetings and asking about everyone's family.  If we were only there for a visit, things might get awkward after that since we don't have a whole lot to talk about.  But early on, someone gets out their week's worth of knitting.  We all ooh and ahh over each piece as they pull it out, occasionally stopping to try one on for size or to pass it around so everyone can feel the softness or inspect the pattern closer.
Next we pull out the new yarn and spend a good amount of time discussing who will take which skeins and which colors can be used together. When everyone is satisfied with their lot, the knitting needles come out and Deoka's living room takes on a different feel.  Everyone finds that they have something to chat about.  Usually the loudest conversation is in Nepali.  Sometimes we have concurrent conversations in Karen (Burmese), Arabic, and/or English.  Knitting takes the pressure out of the need for talk, though.  On the rare occasion that the room does fall silent, there's none of the awkwardness of a lapsed conversation.  No one feels the need to entertain or be entertained since we all have a common purpose.
Sometimes the kids or non-knitting relatives come in and put on Nepali TV shows (complements of youtube).  All the Nepalis watch with rapt attention, and I love to watch the expressions rise and fall with every emotional twist and turn--of which there are many.  Episodes ricochet from passionate love ballads to epic battles or emotional final goodbye scenes that would put the most gut-wrenching of American soap operas to shame for their blandness.
Can I say we're building a tightly-knit community without getting boo-ed off the stage?  One of the biggest problems in the refugee community is loneliness and isolation.  Time alone is time in which a refugee's mind inevitably returns to horrors of the past or memories of loved ones lost or left behind.  Spending a Saturday afternoon in amiable conversation and pleasant company is intrinsically valuable.  Sure, we offer a way for the unemployed to supplement their family's income, but I don't think the money is what keeps people coming back.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some knitting to work on.  --Kara

Saturday, December 5, 2009

More Recruits

Every Saturday it's a different group.  I never know who to expect.  Sure, we teachers recruit new crafters from our classes, but the attendees themselves have also been spreading the word to their friends.  This past month has been a great time of learning.  We've had some experienced knitters volunteer to teach new patterns.  We've also had senior crafters teaching new arrivals the basics.  Here are some of the latest who have joined:
Jouzella came to the U.S. from Sudan in 2006.  Her husband is the pastor of the Sudanese church and also works at World Relief.  Jouzella is a homemaker and mother of 2 daughters.  She is looking for part-time work. In college she studied hotel management, and dreams of someday finishing college and working as a hostess in a hotel.  She has some experience in sewing and crocheting, and is currently learning how to knit.
Marry(left) and Mar Thar (Burmese version of the name Martha/right) are twin sisters from Burma.  They are part of the Karen ethnic group which has largely been persecuted by the Burmese military junta.  They were forced to flee the Burmese military with their family when they were 5 years old.  They hid in the jungle, moving from place to place every time the military came through for the next 8 years.  When they were 13, they finally made it across the border into Thailand and lived in a refugee camp there for the next 21 years.  They came to the U.S. in 2007.  Mary has seven children--one girl and six boys.  She had a job for a month and a half, but had to quit for health reasons.  She's currently looking for a new job.  Mar Thar has four children and four grandchildren.  Both Mary and Mar Thar are learning to knit, and making great headway.

Rabika moved from Bhutan to the Nepali refugee camp when she was 8 years old. She came to the U.S. January 2009 with her husband and 3 children.  Friends in the refugee camp taught her how to knit, and she's one of our more accomplished knitters.  She's looking for work here.  Someday she'd like to take GED classes and go back to school to become a nurse.

Nanda Maya (not yet pictured) is another who was forced out of Bhutan to Nepal 18 years ago.  She came to the U.S. very recently--September 2009.  She has three sons and no job.  She's currently looking for work, and would love to be able to help support her family in the future.  Rabika taught her how to knit since they live next door to each other here in the U.S.

Bishnu is another of the Bhutan/Nepal crowd.  She came to the U.S. summer 2009 with her husband, and three children.  Her husband is deaf and Bishnu has significant hearing loss herself, so communication with her is difficult to say the least.  She's quick to learn new things if she can be shown how to do them though.  She's been one of our most prolific jewelry-makers.  Lately, however, she's had some serious medical problems.  She was hospitalized with a small hole in her heart and needs surgery.  Unfortunately she's a tiny woman and doctors say she must gain weight before they can be confident enough to know she'd be able to recover from surgery.  So she's at home now, waiting.