In the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, immigrant women are healing, connecting and creating through a project called Women’s Global Village.
Women’s Global Village, founded in 2022, is a dream of Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, who has been active in peace- and community-building in the Lancaster community for over 33 years.
Elizabeth’s own migration story and experiences working in the country of Colombia with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and other organizations have helped form her dream of empowering women through sewing and economic opportunities.
Elizabeth says, “Immigrant women are here…We talk about international [ministries], but my argument is that global has arrived, and how are we engaging?”
She answers her own question: “We’re empowering them to do something and feel useful.”
Through Women’s Global Village, immigrant women register for a 12-week class that meets at Hub450 on North Prince Street. Hub450 is a community center owned by Eastern Mennonite Missions that emphasizes hospitality and connection with the local immigrant and refugee community.
Each weekly gathering includes an art class, a snack and time for sewing. The first and last week of the program are spent connecting and hearing each other’s stories. Many of the women who participate are Afghan, Bhutanese, Burmese or Ukrainian. Childcare is provided.
Participants receive $12 an hour to sew simple, beautiful and useful products like plate and bowl cozies and zipper pouches. The products are sold at various retail locations in Lancaster City. Each item bears a tag signed by the artist.
Not only do the women earn income, but more importantly, they attend class to connect with other immigrant women, hone their English language skills and access work opportunities.
MCC East Coast was the first organization to grant financial support to Women’s Global Village. MCC’s support pays participants for their sewing labor and teachers for their efforts guiding participants through the projects.
Rolando Flores-Rentas serves with MCC East Coast as Southcentral Pennsylvania Program Coordinator. He says, “This project recognizes the importance of emotional healing for women, especially those who have experienced trauma. [It] provides a safe space for immigrant women to meet, share their experiences and practice art as a means of emotional healing, individually and collectively.”
Roohafza Emami is an artist and seamstress from Afghanistan who arrived in Lancaster nine months ago with her four children. She was a participant and is now a teacher and interpreter in the program. Roohafza says, “For me, I like to join with women. I think this program helps women to get their independence.” Roohafza wants to exhibit her art and become a businesswoman in Lancaster.
Looking to the future of Women’s Global Village, Elizabeth is exploring the possibility of filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status or inviting a business to come alongside them. She dreams of empowering 10-12 women permanently and having a storefront in Lancaster city to bring greater visibility to the diverse crafts and contributions of immigrant women.
Roohafza and the other participants have dreams for themselves, their children and their communities. And they will accomplish their dreams with the support of Women’s Global Village, MCC East Coast and other community partners.
Elizabeth says, “I want the city to know that we’re here. These women are so thankful that the doors have been opened for them to come to the country. This is the way they’re giving back.”
“Here we are,” Elizabeth says. “Immigrant women are here, from the margins to the marketplace – together.”