The power of the needle and thread stitches up bonds between newcomers

A support group for female immigrants and refugees in Calgary is helping women avoid becoming socially isolated through the power of a needle and thread.

The group also helps women forge friendships and improve their English skills

The support group includes women from different generations who gather to learn and help pass on sewing skills. Pictured left to right: Farha Ahmed, Nadira Huda, Najeeba Huda. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A support group for female immigrants and refugees in Calgary is helping women avoid becoming socially isolated through the power of a needle and thread.

The Centre for Newcomers peer support group meets weekly for the next three months, helping women from countries like India, Bangladesh and Somalia make new friends and practise speaking English while learning how to run a sewing machine.

"The objective is way deeper than sewing skill development," said Bukurie Mino, associate director of the centre's settlement program.

Bukurie Mino with the Centre for Newcomers says the group goes way deeper than just teaching women how to sew, providing many with a place to make friends and practice basic English interactions in a pressure-free space. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Most of them don't speak any English or have very limited English and because of that they isolate themselves at home and that can have a very negative impact," said Mino.

It's about helping women integrate and creating important new friendships. 

"They need friends to go out, for a walk in the park, to go for a coffee and to learn about Canadian society," said Mino.

One of the participants of the all-women group learning how to use a sewing machine. The group is designed to get women together in a supportive environment. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Women are eager to contribute and participate fully and connect with mainstream Canada socially and learn as much as possible about Canadian culture, and make Canadian friends too," she added.

The group is bringing families closer together too, with mothers passing on sewing skills to their daughters, and daughters helping mothers improve their English skills.

Dolly Begum has worked with newcomers for 22 years since arriving in Calgary as an immigrant herself. She's now a settlement counselor with the Centre for Newcomers.

Dolly Begum says she remembers the hurdles she faced as an immigrant herself more than two decades ago, which helps her help newcomers to Calgary today. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"When I first came I know what kind of problem they face, so I love to work with immigrants," said Begum, who speaks Bengali, Hindi and Punjabi.

"We just want bring them out and let them do something themselves and they learn skills here," said Begum.

Begum says many of the issues are the same as we when she arrived in Canada more than two decades ago, but there are more newcomers now.

A woman practices using a sewing machine for the first time at Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"They are like my relatives. They are so close, like my brother or sister," Begum said.

The sewing program runs Thursday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. 

The Centre for Newcomers is situated in the Pacific Place Mall in Calgary's northeast. 

Sewing for inclusion, friendship 0:40

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey