Immigrant women in Queens are being taught sewing and handicraft skills to build self-confidence and gain financial independence.

NY1's Clodagh McGowan filed the following report.


Sewing machines are whirring and busy hands are hard at work in this church basement in Jamaica. These women are mostly immigrants from South Asia. While they're developing sewing skills, they're also learning how to become more independent.

"They have a lot of obstacles at home to get outside because the culture is such that they are not supposed do things that know anything other than taking care of at home," said Nivedita Chandrappa, the founder of Wishwas.

Wishwas was founded seven years to empower a growing number of immigrant women in Queens who are often isolated at home with little money and no access to work.

They meet twice a week, developing skills they brought to America to make tapestries, handbags and other goods. Wishwas markets those products, giving the women income and independence.

"I see the pride in them. And they're encouraged. They want to do more. You'll find that they open up a lot more once they realize 'wow, someone can appreciate my work,” said Dondrill Glover, a consultant for Wishwas.

The women's backgrounds are as diverse as their skills. Sukla Dutta is a needle worker. A widow, she is trying to increase her income.

"I want more work," said Dutta, a Jamaica resident.

Syeda Jobaida earned two masters degrees in Bangladesh. Caring for three daughters is her full-time job here but she enjoys being a student again and is learning to sew.

"I come here and learn how to get a business," said Jobaida, a Woodside resident.

The program is open to anyone who wants to hone their handicraft skills. Retiree Bernice Williams travels twice a week from Far Rockaway.

"I think it's very empowering. To let someone know the craft and the skill they have can certainly bring some type of revenue," said Williams.

Wishwas organizers say they're hoping for a steadier flow of orders but they are planning to expand to other immigrant communities in the borough, to empower even more women.

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