When refugees arrive in the US, they face unique challenges.
“They’ve been dumped in a new country where they don’t know the language, don’t know the culture, and they all of a sudden have to survive,” said Stephanie Giddens, founder and executive director of Vickery Trading Company.
“They need extra resources, and you have to go about that help in a different way, in a very trauma-informed way.”
Giddens started her Dallas-based nonprofit to help refugee women stitch a path together for long-term success through sewing, English and financial literacy skills.
Passion for helping marginalized women
“I became interested in the marginalization of women as I studied women around the world and realized how many women were so disadvantaged, especially outside of the United States,” said Giddens.
She began volunteering with organizations supporting resettled refugees.
“I realized there were so many opportunities that they had missed out on in their lives, and I wanted to help,” Giddens said in an interview with CNN.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of the 79.5 million people forced into displacement, over half are women and girls. Women refugees often experience sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and uphill battles resettling because of a lack of bankable skills.
Giddens researched the best ways to help marginalized refugees and founded Vickery Trading Company in 2015. The nonprofit hires and trains refugee women to professionally sew using industrial machines, equipping them with the skills to enter the broader workplace. Participants earn between $10-$12 an hour, depending on their skill level. The fair wage for a seamstress in the Dallas market is up to $15 an hour.
“During that training, they are making a line of women’s and children’s clothes,” said Giddens. “We sell that clothing in the marketplace to help generate revenue to support the mission of the organization.”
Going beyond the seams
The impact of Giddens’ work goes beyond the stitches of seams. Her nonprofit provides essential wrap-around services to support resettlement.
“The second piece of our mission is personal development,” said Giddens, “all of the other skills that they will need to really be self-sufficient here in America.”
That includes English lessons, computer and financial literacy courses, and mental health services.
Giddens incorporates courses like trauma-sensitive yoga to help the women process and deal with mental trauma from their previous experiences.
“It’s really helping them to connect with their bodies and their feelings and recognize what they’re experiencing in the moment, which is one of the first steps to healing,” said Giddens.
The effectiveness of Giddens’ work shows up in her students.
“After coming here, I learned that I can be treated without discrimination,” said Frishda Hussaini, an Afghan refugee from Kabul.
“Stephanie and Vickery Trading company has given me motivation and courage to enter the society, to show my talent and help me find friends. And it is a good feeling.”
Since training with Vickery Trading Company, Hussaini has taken on a part-time job with Refugee Services of Texas, enrolled in college and continues to work as a seamstress on a freelance basis outside of her work with the nonprofit.
“When we take the time to invest in refugee women, we are really investing in the future thriving of our communities,” concluded Giddens.