“Only God knows why I do this!”

Above: Back row –Barossa Valley volunteers: Helen Semmler, Eileen Bartel, Marg Kaerbach, Rae Materne. Front – Ruby Kaur (India – a lead sewer of bags), Mai.

Helen Semmler started teaching a former refugee new neighbour lady sewing in 2001. A year later, with Noreen Klein, this became the Lutheran Community Sewing Group. Now, 37 new neighbour ladies learn sewing each Friday, with five more ladies waiting for a space. The new neighbours come from Iran, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, India, Iraq and Eritrea. Seventeen volunteers teach sewing, another three work in the kitchen, four more in the crèche and four as drivers. The Sewing Group is a key part of the ALWS Walk My Way, sewing 800 African carry bags as a thank you gift to walkers. Helen shares her motivation …

Stacks of brightly coloured and patterned fabric bags are arranged on the floor, surrounded by packing boxes.

Some of the African Carry Bags made by the sewing group as thank you gifts for the Walk My Way participants.

“Only God knows why I do this. I keep doing it because I can’t find anyone else to take it over.

Some Fridays I drive home and ask God why I do this. Other days I think how beautiful – it’s a diamond day.

I love seeing the women go forward. They often come to us quite traumatised, or with very low self-esteem because they come from cultures that don’t value women.

I am one of five kids, four of us girls. Our Dad valued us and loved us girls. Not everyone has someone who thinks they are wonderful. I’ve got a husband who values me too.

We take a photo of even the smallest item a lady makes – even just a pincushion. We all stop and clap because we want to affirm the progress people are making.

It’s wonderful to applaud these ladies for everything they achieve.

We’re always looking for more volunteers. You don’t have to be a dressmaker, even the most basic sewing skills are precious to us.”

Helen is always looking for more volunteers, and donations of material. You can contact her at khsemmler@optusnet.com.au or on 08 8370 2499

“I am still learning”

Mai Fleeh (bottom right in photo), is one of the sewing success stories. Mai fled war in Liberia, spent time in a Refugee Camp in Guinea, and arrived in Australia in 2008 …

“It was terrible at the war. We ran away with nothing.

It was strange arriving in Australia. The behaviour here is very different. You don’t discipline your children the way we did.

If you don’t speak good English, it is very hard to get a job. Back in Liberia, I had a business. I could buy and sell. But here in Australia you need much more to start a business.

I came to Sewing Group with a friend. Everyone here is lovely and welcomes me.

If I don’t have money to put petrol in the car, I can’t come.

I am in the top group, but I am still learning.”

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