Former refugee women now living in Austin & working for Open Arms. Stories of triumph and hope for refugee women everywhere.
Flora works at Open Arms in the pre-production and
post-production stages for all of our products. She joyfully accepts new
challenges and is eager to help in every area.
She is the widowed mother of 7 children, ranging in age
from 5 to 18. They fled violent fighting in southern Sudan, with vivid memories
of shootings and houses burning with families locked inside. She tries to keep
in touch with the family she left behind, including her mother, sister and brother
(who just recently died). Like many Sudanese, she and her family escaped to
Egypt and applied for refugee status with the United Nations. In Flora’s words,
waiting for the U.N. to accept an application is “very hard.” She and her
family lived in Egypt for four years, working a series of difficult, low-paying
jobs before being resettled in Austin, TX.
At Open Arms, Tila is a part of the production team
responsible for sewing. She is a conscientious, hard worker.
Memories of Bhutan, Tila’s homeland, are scarce, but she
can recall the 17 years she and her family spent in a Nepal refugee camp. Life
in the camp was congested and difficult with few freedoms. Never allowed to
leave the camp, refugees stayed in their assigned sectors, working together in
menial jobs and subsisting on a diet of rice and oil with limited access to
medicine. She and her family left behind all their belongings and several
family members including her mother and sister. She came to Austin in 2010.
Man Maya’s Story
Our youngest team member, Man Maya creates many of the
hand-sewn flourishes on our products. Her quick smile and helpful attitude
brighten the workspace for everyone.
Man Maya is also from Bhutan, but can only remember the
refugee camp in Nepal that was her home for 17 years. Living in flimsy bamboo
houses crowded closely together presented its share of difficulties, including
a general climate of danger in the camp. As camp residents, she and her family
had no rights or freedom of movement, at least until the state department
approved their application. She lives in Austin with her parents but still
worries about two brothers she had to leave behind in the camps.
Odile works in the production team at Open Arms, helping
create the hand-sewn detail work. Her joy in her work is contagious and she is
responsible for the spontaneous dancing and singing that often break out in the
Born and raised in Congo Brazzaville, Odile fled oppression on
foot, walking every day for a year to reach neighboring Gabon. Many unspeakable
things happened to her and her family during their exodus from the Congo and
the ten years in Gabon were also marred by an inhospitable attitude displayed
by the local citizens. Her desperate desire to leave was finally fulfilled when
her application to emigrate was approved, and she arrived in Austin with her
three daughters in 2010. She is still haunted by the memory of three sons she
had to leave in Gabon.
A very recent refugee from Iraq, Raya joins Open Arms as our Production Supervisor. Educated and trained as an engineer, she brings experience and confidence to our team.
Raya and her husband fled from Iraq in November, 2010, after realizing their safety was in jeopardy every time they left their home. While growing accustomed to the sounds of bombs, tanks and fighter jets, they could not adjust to the fear they felt from the daily stress of never knowing if they would return home alive. Daily activities, like going to work, to restaurants or shopping, became a dangerous gamble. The civil unrest in Iraq has resulted in many kidnappings and even assassinations, with bodies left on the street and in the garbage. Raya’s parents, and some siblings, still reside in Baghdad.
Christine recently joined Open Arms in December, 2012, as a production specialist. Her sweet personality, paired with previous sewing experience has helped her become part of the team very quickly!
Originally from Burundi, she spent 18 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Thankfully, the camp was a good one, with food and relative safety, although crowded and without any work opportunities and certainly not a home with electricity or running water. She and her husband met in the camp and came to the U.S. with 4 children and one on the way! She tells us she is happy to have found work at Open Arms. With 5 children, she is also happy to see them get a good education.