Knitting Class Brings New Opportunities for Refugee Women in Pittsburgh

This fall, the Northern Area Multi Service Center in Pittsburgh began to seek donations of hats, gloves and scarves for new refugee families in the area. The staff approached a local knitting group for donations and were pleasantly surprised when the group leader, Constance Paras Wong, offered not only to give donations, but to teach a knitting class for refugees.

Learning to knit.

Learning to knit.

Constance’s knitting group donated needles for the class. The majority of yarn was provided by a local Pittsburgh man after a request for donations was sent to the Pittsburgh Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Group (RPCV). The yarn belonged to the man’s deceased wife, who had made school bags for refugee children through United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and was an active Peace Corps member. He stated that the donation “[made] it possible to extend [his wife’s] care beyond her lifetime.”

With the necessary materials collected and the class underway, Constance made the knitting group a service project for the honor society she is a part of at the Community College of Allegheny County. Several members of the honor society now help to facilitate the class, enabling local Community College students to get to know some of Pittsburgh’s newest residents.

Knitting with friends.

Knitting with friends.

The class is a mix of Bhutanese and Iraqi women. Most have knitting experience, but there are a few beginners as well. It is a great opportunity for the women to relax, socialize, and meet members of other refugee communities in Pittsburgh. Participants in the group have made hats and scarves so far, and are hoping to sell some items at this year’s World Refugee Day event. Class participant Saraswati Bhujel stated that before coming to the United States she used to make hats, sweaters and scarves in Nepal, but stopped because she didn’t have materials. She’s happy to be a part of the class and states, “it’s my hobby.”

Article by Elizabeth Ringler-Jayanthan