On Being a Woman and Rising Above

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"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

A refugee originally from Burma and now living in San Diego is employed by Thread Spun. She sews surfboared bags by hand using textiles hand woven by artisans from around the world.

Former refugees living in San Diego play with American-born boy, son of Thread Spun founders.

American-born daughter of former refugees and neice of Thread Spun employee.

Former refugee and family member of Thread Spun employee feeds son of company owners.

On this International Women's Day, this (our first) post is dedicated to our employee, Pleh and to all of the other millions of women in this world fighting for themselves and their families to be safe. Pleh is many things, has many amazing characteristics and qualities that make her who she is. She is determined, kind, open-minded, hard-working, an amazing and loving aunt, a talented seamstress. She also came to this country as a refugee.

Refugees leave their homes because they fear for their safety and their lives. For Pleh, a member of the Karen ethnic minority group from Burma, this fear was caused by civil war and military incursions into her village. Forced inscription and labor, abductions, military use of children, shootings, and a lack of food and water were commonplace. Pleh fled with her family in the middle of the night, dodging land mines and the military, with only what she could carry on her back. She crossed over into Thailand and never saw her home again. She lived for years in an overcrowded refugee camp with no legal status or opportunity to work.

When she was afforded the extremely rare opportunity (only 1% of the worlds refugee population is ever resettled in a third country) to move to the United States through the official U.S. Resettlement Assistance Program, Pleh boarded a plane for the first time in her life and landed at San Diego International Airport. This marked the beginning of her new life. But Pleh didn't speak English. She didn't know how to take the bus and she had never used a bank. She had never been formally employed, never having had the opportunity to have a job. Now Pleh was expected to build a life for herself and her family, to do so quickly, and to do so with very limited assistance from the U.S. government or her community. And she did. Pleh is a talented seamstress who supports fair trade and the environment through her work, crafting handmade surfboard bags.

When I am questioning my own courage, I think of Pleh's and of other refugee women. Over the course of her life she has been challenged in innumerable ways. Her safety, well-being, happiness, even her life have been threatened. And yet she rises. She persists. She perseveres. She finds ways to expand her horizons even in times that almost demand they shrink. Within the current sociopolitical climate in this country, Pleh has found another opportunity to rise. To continue to improve her English so that she can advocate on behalf of refugees and immigrants. To reach out to new people and share her story. To expand her opportunities to help and to be heard. She does this despite her fears, tapping into that courage that has gotten her so far. Pleh is amazing. Women are amazing.

When we stand together, we are more courageous. When we are more courageous, our worlds expand. So today, we stand with Pleh and all refugee women. We stand with immigrants, with migrants, with LGBT and those who are questioning, with transgendered women and children, with those of every color, religion and background. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, spiritualists. Whomever you are, we're with you. Have courage. We all bring something awesome to the table, so look out, world.

 

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