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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pictures from the Extravaganza

The view from the bridge...Our table was located inside of University of Denver's signature glass pedestrain bridge that spans a major street to connect two buildings. The light wasn't great and all the glass made for a photographic challenge, but Jaime did what she could to document our participation. In the end, though, she who controls the blog, controls the pictures (bwahahaha!). Sharon detests having her picture taken, but she was happy to crop the pictures judiciously so you can't see the blogger, but you can see a little bit of our sale at the African Extravaganza.

Anna and a young customer discuss the merchandise.

Another happy customer. There were lots of "Oooooos" and "Ahhhhhhs" throughout the evening.

We were informed by these and several other boys that we are totally lame for not having any "more masculine" jewelry. We're still not sure what that means, exactly, but we've sent it out to our Research and Development unit for further exploration.

Share the Love!

The Bead Women are always on the lookout for information about programs with a mission similar to ours. Today we found two! In one day!

In the spirit of sisterhood, of what Tammy Powley calls Sister Beadpower and what Margot Potter calls Super-Girlie-Good-Power, we share these stories with you. Please take time to learn about these amazing projects. You will feel inspired.

First, from the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire...

Drawing a bead on a living
New arrivals lend their hands to S.N.O.B. festival

Click here to read about how Congolese women in New Hampshire are beading their way to self-sufficiency.

Next is WEAVE, Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment
Click here to read about how Burmese refugee women in Thailand are using traditional skills such as weaving to better their own lives and the stability of their communities. We hope to connect with this group so they can tell us how to procure the correct weaving materials (fibers) for the Burmese weavers of A Little Something. Here's hoping they answer our questions! You can view and purchase the WEAVE group's beautiful fiber arts via One World Projects, a fair-trade importer doing socially responsible work around the world. Check out the other projects they have going on in the global marketplace. Good stuff!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

We meet our public and it makes our feet hurt

Last week, the American women of A Little Something found themselves overwhelemd with responsibilities and engagments. Somehow, though, we managed to work our way through it.

On top of all of the usual contributors to the fast pace of our life, Susan, Anna, and Sharon are working with a small group of Somali Bantu girls as part of a self-esteem-building program. We meet with the girls once a week and attempt to show them how to make jewelry. That would be three childless women from twenty-something to fifty-something, trying to navigate the world of middle school girls while also trying to get the girls to settle down and focus for five mintes ("Are you listening to me? Don't look at her, she's not the one talking to you. Where are your crimping pliers? You can't use them in class if you leave them at home..."). Every time we walk into that building I wonder how anyone survives middle school.

On Friday night, we eventually all made it to the same place, although definitely not at the same time. We were in good company--the entire room was a fair-trade market with the like of Beads for Life and Handcrafting Justice just a few tables away. We weren't the only ones selling jewelry and fiber arts, and we worried that we would be overlooked in favor of more polished vendors.

Somehow, we were totally unprepared for the pace of the evening and the size of the crowd. We weren't even finished setting up when people started coming by. We talked--a lot. We sold a lot. We saw many, many familiar faces, and although some had heard bits of information about our project, few had any idea of just how much progress we've made in the six months A Little Something has been...something.

Through the course of the evening, we never had the chance to sit down, let alone take a break. We were sure to let visitors know that our crafters are right here in our city--you don't need to look to far-off countries to find women who are working to craft their way out of poverty. In between showing merchandise, we tried to fit in stories about the refugee women who created everything we had to sell.

Haiffaa was supposed to work the table with us, but she was working the room--she has a lot of fans after her stunning presentation earlier in the week. Khadiga's daughters heard the siren song of drumming, dancing, food, and fun, and we didn't have the heart to pull them away from the ballroom.

So, we worked, explained, greeted, laughed, talked, smiled, and generally connected with a very interested crowd. We talked some more, shook a lot of hands, wrote up sales, smiled 'til our faces hurt, and finally, when the night came to an end, we were all thirsty, hungry, exhausted, and proud--very proud of the women and the tremendous amount of work they produced just for this night, and for the creative souls and savvy style mavens they have become. We were even a little proud of ourselves, but what we felt more than anything was our feet. They hurt...but it was totally worth it.

Friday, February 22, 2008


The Bead Women of A Little Something are busily rushing about getting ready to attend the African Extravaganza at the University of Denver tonight. We had this great plan that included having many of the women attend the event and help sell their work at our table. Everyone agreed it would be a good opportunity for the artists to meet their public, so to speak, but also for them get more comfortable speaking with people.

Once again, our plans went a little awry. Mama Moumina is quite ill and has been to the clinic twice this week. Fatuma's oldest daughter has her own school event tonight, so Fatuma doesn't have a sitter for the younger kids. Hajia stayed home from school because she's feeling quite ill. Khadija has been suffering from a chronic kidney ailment. Sharifo can't get a ride (and probably not a sitter). Bakhara is moving out of state tomorrow. We haven't heard from Htee.

The banner says that we're the Denver Refugee Women's Crafts Initiative, but tonight there will be mostly American women working our table at the event. We won't look very convincing as a refugee group. Maybe we need to write in "and friends" after the word 'Women' on that banner!

Sharon has the display in her car so she can go straight to the venue when she gets off at 4:00. If she gets off at 4:00. She was up late last night putting the finishing touches on things, making a sign, and ironing the new table covers. Anna spent the evening running all over town--by bus--gathering up last-minute jewelry creations, and then she was up until the wee hours pricing everything. Anna has all of the jewelry and crafts with her, but she's working late coaching soccer after school, so Susan will drive across town and pick up the suitcase full of merchandise from Anna at work. Jaime is bringing the cash box when she gets off from work, but she needs to stop at home first. Somebody needs to pick up Haiffaa, Shaza, and Shima, but nobody is coming from that part of town.

Believe it or not, the situation today is pretty typical here at A Little Something--and for women everywhere. We all struggle to fit everything in, to accomodate last-minute demands, to produce instant contingency plans. Despite the bumps along the way, we still get the job done, though, don't we? We network, we brainstorm, we work out the logistics, and we knit together support systems to keep life rolling along. We do what we can--and that's usually a lot.

We juggle like crazy and yet we still remember to find that place inside of us that inspires us to make beautiful things, to seek out new friends, and to just laugh when the chaos gets ridiculous.

We are laughing--please laugh with us!


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

African Community Center Presents...

African Extravaganza
A lively celebration of African food and culture
presented by The African Community Center

Wednesday, February 20
University of Denver, Sturm Hall

Faces of Refugees Photo Exhibit
and Meet & Greet the Artist

Refugee Voices

Hear remarkable stories of fear, courage, and triumph told by refugees fromSudan, Somalia, Burma and Iraq (Haiffaa Ali--from the crafts project)
Starts at 7:00 p.m.


Friday, February 22, 6:00-9:00pm
African Extravaganza Featuring the Pan African Group
University of Denver, Driscoll Hall
An amazing celebration of food, music, drumming, dancing & lively African dress!

Take a walk through the African Market, featuring Fair Trade and local goods,
jewelry, handcrafts, spices, baskets, textiles and more.

Come enjoy this unique opportunity to celebrate African culture and Heritage!
A Little Something (a.k.a., The Denver Refugee Women’s Crafts Initiative) will have a table at the event on Friday night. If you’re there, come over to say hi and maybe buy a nice necklace!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Haiffaa again!

Last week, Colorado Public Radio aired a story about refugee resettlement in Colorado. A Little Something participant, Haiffaa Ali, was part of that interview. The program's producers felt it would be beneficial for listeners to hear a more in-depth interview with Haiffaa, especially to compare her impressions at one year in the U.S. with the first impressions of the newly arrived woman featured in the first interview.

This story is about ten minutes long. Of all of the things the host said during the interview, I think my favorite was when he told Haiffa he was impressed and astounded that she was able to give a radio interview (without fear) after only one year of language acquisition.

It's a good story that should leave you wondering how you would cope in similar circumstances.

Click here to go to the Colorado Public Radio Website, and then scroll down to Monday, February 18 to listen to the interview.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Meeting of the minds

Several weeks ago, we were faced with one of those realizations that is at once daunting and yet necessary to address.

When this program first started to come together, we envisioned weekly sessions with the women where we would teach a new jewelry or craft technique while giving the women an opportunity to spend time together doing something they enjoyed. The reality, though, showed us that the women have such diverse family situations that getting the group together was no small feat of logisitics. Transportation, childcare, Saturday errands...It put a big challenge before us.

The women have been working at home, honing skills and technique, but not engaging in the collaboration we had originally envisioned. To further complicate things, we caught wind of a brewing schism within the Somali Bantu community, and we felt that it was time to articulate once again what this project was intended to do. We also thought it would be a good idea to have all of the Bantu women together in one room so they could compare their creations and help each other with techniques that were giving them trouble.

Now that A Little Something is seemed that the time had come to reiterate the explanation of what we were doing and try to work through any conflicts that might affect the success of the project or the women's willingness to be a part of it. It is the Somali Bantu way to talk, to discuss, to build consensus. Simmering resentments are not something we want to leave unacknowledged within the community of Beadwomen. So the meeting was convened.

Between us, we were able to pick up all those who didn't have a ride to the meeting location. Once we were together in the room, each woman spread out her finished work, and resumed work on creations in progress. There was a lot of discussion about the jewelry, and a bit of chaos as we handed out bead boxes to the newest members, replenished supplies for the others, demonstrated and gave refresher lessons on crimping, attaching clasps, opening and closing ear wires, and showed how to adjust wire length on bracelets and necklaces. We always speak as we teach, whether our words are understood or not. So far, it seems to be working.

As the women became absorbed in the morning's activities, the atmosphere became more relaxed. The noise level rose noticeably, and we teachers were kept busy in the happy chaos.

Eventually, the time was right to bring up the business of the day. We had a 15-year-old translator who tried her best, but we had two languages represented, which meant Hajia had to translate English to Kizigua, and then Mama Moumina translated Kizigua to May May. We're pretty sure things got lost in the translation.

Jaime, Susan, Anna, and I each took our turn explainaing what we wanted for the women in this program. We emphasized that it's not our program--it's theirs. We asked the women what they wanted. We explained that although we are managing things at this time, the ultimate goal is for the women themselves to acquire the skills and knowledge to do this themselves. We told them that we will always want to hear what they have to say, for better or for worse. We humbly explained that we might make mistakes since we are learning, too. We expressed with true sincerity that we could always be trusted to work in the best interests of these women, we would not take advantage of them, and we would not exploit them as others may have done.

The Bantu have long been marginalized, and within their own culture, women have had a particularly hard time of it. We told the women that we have been diligent about educating people about the Bantu people, their culture, and their plight. This news was very well received and the women expressed gratitude that we wanted to advocate for them. I also told them that if we could look past culture and race, in the end, we are all women, and as such, we share common concerns and goals. Women should help women. Nods all around.

Toward the end of our discussion, Mama stood up and addressed us directly. She assured us that no one in the Bantu community believes we would ever do anything harmful or dishonest. We have the trust and respect of the community. At this point, Mama M spoke to us passionately and at length. I was pretty sure we weren't being admonished, but whatever she was saying was snapping like a spark in her eyes.

Other than telling some of the women it was disrespectful to speak when we were speaking (...because we were putting in all of this time and effort on their behalf, they should show some courtesy and listen--just like a Mama), MM had a special message for us. The short version is this: The women are content with the current program setup. They are eager to learn more, including how to knit hats and scarves like those that Htee makes. The women are grateful that we are helping them to make money for themselves and doing so in a way they find enjoyable. They thanked us for telling people about the Bantu. And there was one more thing...

They wanted to thank you for taking an interest in them and for sharing your beads with us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tune In!

Tune in on Tuesday, February 12th at 10:00am and 7:00pm on 1340AM in Denver or listen on the Internet-- and hear Haiffaa!!!(we're so proud)

Hear the story of one of Denver's newest arriving community members on NPR/CPR's Colorado Matters. Zuhal, an Iraqi refugee, arrived three weeks ago by way of Jordan. Interviews with a case manager, Our very own Haiffaa!!, and the director of the state refugee office are also interviewed.

If you miss the show or you don't live in Colorado, you can listen to it online via the station's Website by clicking here. Scroll down to select the February 12 program.

This 20-minute program provides an excellent overview of the refugee resettlement process and the isues that refugees face both abroad and in the U.S. This story is well worth the 20 minutes it takes to listen. Enjoy!