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For Refugees Who've Made New Homes In Kansas City, Quilts Are A Universal Language

“People are making their homes in the worst possible positions in the world and ... 3201 Southwest Trafficway, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111. Speaker programs continue throughout February, and the exhibition closes on March 8. Follow KCUR contributor ...

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A Sudanese woman gathered her six grandchildren to explain the family’s 1996 escape to Ethiopia from war-torn SudanThe children had not yet been born when a bomb hit the village and the grandmother and her own children fledThe family literally ran night after night, sleeping in bushes during the day to escape fighters’ noticeIn 1997, they reached Ethiopia and settled in a refugee camp where they lived until immigrating to the United States a year agoAn international agency assigned them to Kansas City This woman wanted her grandchildren to know the family’s story as they grow up so far from the strife of their homeland, says Ann Say, director of education at the Kansas City non-profit Once We Were RefugeesBut this grandmother cannot read or write in any language, and her English is poor(KCUR is not using the woman's name because she fears for the safety of her family members still in Sudan.) So she told it in a quiltIt's one of several that will go on display for a month starting on Friday at Metropolitan Community College’s Carter Art Center A woman from Sudan learned how to sew in a class at the non-profit Once We Were Refugees, and told her family's story in a quilt so her grandchildren would know their history Credit Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3 Besides offering local refugees the opportunity to create story quilts, Say's organization also teaches rudimentary and intermediate sewing classes, where students can create items such as placemats and napkins and some items of clothingAnd her husband coordinates a computer classNo English is required for the sewing coursesSo regardless of language capabilities, every participant has the chance to tell his or her story while learning to sewSince the class started in 2016, each of its 58 graduates has made a story quiltMany of those will join the one describing the grandmother's story above, along with the art of Sandra Van Tuyl and the photography of KCUR's Julie DeneshaVan Tuyl, who aside from being an artist works for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, notes that the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since World War IIAs of last year, 65.6 million people were displaced; of those, 22.5 million are refugees, according to the UN Refugee AgencyAt the same time, immigration to the United States has dropped dramatically since President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel into the U.Sfrom Muslim-majority nationsSay recalls that she and her husband used to make weekly trips to the Kansas City International Airport to greet newcomers, but now such trips are rare; in September no one came at all Ann Say (right) with Tasillia, a refugee from South Sudan, who is working on a quilt in a sewing class Say conducts at Kansas City's Della Lamb Community Services Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3 Say's sewing students are primarily from 13 nations, including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and South SudanUpon graduating from the nine-week course (which is limited by volunteer capacity to 10 students), each person keeps the donated sewing machine he or she learned on, and also receives an ironing board, new scissors, and fabricStudents often depart with a job as wellRestoration Apparel, a local maker of juvenile athletic ware, staffs almost exclusively with graduates of Say’s courseSay also sells her students’ placemats, napkins, microwave bowls, and crocheted “mug rugs” – made in and outside of class – when she speaks to other organizations about refugeesAll of the proceeds go to the items’ creatorsShe recalls the first time a 60-year-old Somalian woman sold a placemat setThe woman’s son called Say to tell her his mother had cried when she saw the money“My mother’s whole self-esteem has changed,” the man said“She has never in her life made a single dollarShe said to me, ‘I never knew that I would ever make anything that was worth anything.’” Photographs by Julie Denesha are flanked by artwork by Sandra Van Tuyl in '1,000 Footsteps Tell The Story' at the Carter Art Center Credit Anne Kniggendorf / KCUR 89.3 The exhibition of quilts also has a strong educational componentIn programs throughout the month of February, nine guest speakers will touch on topics such as refugee employment programs, migrant farm workers, and refugee health careVan Tuyl says those conversations about health care are vitally important“People are making their homes in the worst possible positions in the world and staying there for 12 years, and having their babies there without medical care,” she explains, adding that some refugees have never seen doctorsShe hopes high school classes will visit the exhibition so that Kansas City’s young people can see a perspective from beyond their daily lives“If one kid says, "Hey, I want to help,' and plugs in somehow, we’ve done our job,” Van Tuyl says“We’ve just informed themThat’s the first thingAnd secondly, we’ve just made them advocates in the world.” 1,000 Footsteps Tell the Story opens with a reception from 5-8 p.mFriday, February 2 at the Carter Art Center MCC-Penn Valley, 3201 Southwest Trafficway, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111Speaker programs continue throughout February, and the exhibition closes on March 8Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf Tags: visual artspaintingphotographyrefugeesSudanese RefugeesSyrian RefugeesMetropolitan Community CollegeKansas City MissouriDigital PostTweetShareGoogle+Email Related Content For Deaf Refugees, Learning Sign Language Is A Challenge With Life-Changing Rewards By Alex Smith • Nov 7, 2017 Alex Smith / KCUR Listen Listening.. / 9:49 Maita thinks he was seven years old when he and his family were forced out of their home in BhutanStarting in the late 1980s, the Himalayan country began driving out people who were ethnically NepaliThey fled across the mountains to Nepal, where they were settled in impoverished refugee camps“I didn’t even know NepalI didn’t know anything about it,” Maita explains using sign language“We didn’t have any foodWe didn’t have any shelterWe needed help cause we were starving.” Syrian Refugees Celebrate One-Year Anniversary In Kansas City By Andrea Tudhope • Apr 10, 2017 Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3 Sunday afternoon, refugees, volunteers and community members gathered at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Ahmad al-Abboud and his family's arrival in Kansas CityThey were the first Syrian family to be resettled in the United States as part of the 2016 refugee "surge" under the Obama administration Unaccompanied Minors Flock To Rural Kansas, Struggle For Security By Esther Honig • Feb 17, 2016 Esther Honig / KCUR 89.3  In the small, rural city of Liberal, Kansas, a neighborhood of old trailer homes sits just off the main streetThe small trailer at the end of the block, with faded yellow paint and creaky front steps, is the place 17-year-old Diego now calls home

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