Each year, thousands of refugees seek asylum in the United States.
An organization in DuPage County is helping refugee women get back on their feet by teaching them how to become designers.
Josefina Rengifo would never have imagined that she would have to say goodbye to her life in Venezuela.
“I needed to learn a new life. I’m not young and it was hard. I did not know the language. When people leave for other countries, people don’t want it, but they need it,” Rengifo said.
Rengifo says she was forced to leave her country four years ago, having to part ways with her businesses and move to Illinois to live with her daughters.
“When I came here I thought my life was over, why me? Here I listened to the story (of others) and said, ‘Wow, Josefina shut up. Other people’s lives have been harder,” said Rengifo, a Re:new employee, where she met other women with similar stories.
Re:new is a non-profit, faith-based organization that serves refugee women in DuPage County.
“Our mission is to create a safe space for refugee women to thrive, and we do this by offering sewing classes and English lessons in the hope that this will lead to employment with us or with someone. each other,” said Kristi Zboncak, executive director. of Re:new.
Rengifo was eager to learn English and was encouraged to learn tailoring and became a craftsman.
“The most important thing is that you learn that you can do it, and Re:new takes care of the people here,” Rengifo said. “They pay attention to how you feel and what happened with your family. It gives you dignity.
The organization started as a sewing group and slowly grew into an organization in 2009. Re:new’s executive director says more than 100 women have participated in the program and worked for the store.
“We find that sewing and creating is definitely a healing process for artisans, especially when they didn’t know how to sew. And they come here feeling alone and all of a sudden they have a friend, and they have a machine and they can start creating again,” Zboncak said. “The healing process and there’s something powerful about taking (something) thrown away and would have been thrown away, but instead we’re able to turn it into something beautiful.”
Farida Gasanova has worked for Re:new for eight years. She was a kindergarten teacher when she fled Georgia at age 47.
“I come here without speaking English, and now I know a little, a little,” Gasanova said.
Now she’s a designer and makes all kinds of things, from earrings to handbags.
“Every time I pray for God to help us find clients. I’m happy, every time customers come, I pray on my machine,” Gasanova said.
All of the products they sell at the Glen Ellyn store are made from recycled materials donated by furniture stores and the community.
“A lot of our products are a bit more expensive than you’d expect, but that’s because we pay fair wages and all of their wages go directly into the cost of the product,” Zboncak said.
Although the journey was not easy, Rengifo says the organization helped her start over.
“I’m very grateful because I have a new family here, and I live with my daughters and every day I say thank you to this county for a new opportunity,” Rengifo said.