Local arts project teaches compassion and crochet at Shorecrest

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shorecrest Sophomores Emma Howlett (left) and Joy Chen (right),
with Elsa Bouman of Refugee Welcome Mats
 demonstrate that having a generous spirit can be fun

In mid-January, members of the Shorecrest High School Art Club wrapped up a project where they learned how to crochet rag rugs out of gently used fabric.

Thirteen rugs from the class have been donated to the International Refugee Committee (IRC) to be gifted to refugee families as they move into their new homes in the Puget Sound area.

Bouman and Shorecrest art teacher Laura King wrote and received a grant from the Shoreline and Lake Forest Park Arts Council for the high-school class.

Silvia Romero Cavin, Arts Education Manager of the Shoreline and Lake Forest Park Arts Council said, “This project helped teach an important craft and gave students purpose beyond themselves.”

Deepening the students’ understanding of the refugee problem was an important part of the project for Bouman, who has a 30-year history of teaching fiber arts to youth and adults. “Teaching them to crochet was only part of our goal. We also tried to give them some perspective on the plight of refugees.”

Bouman told students,

“If your house burns down, you can get help from your neighbors, your local fire department, your local hospital. Even your country’s government will help. 
"But people who must flee their homes do so because not only are their homes destroyed, there is no one left to help them--no neighbors, no local or governmental services to call upon. Everything they once knew has been destroyed or damaged beyond repair.”
She also shared a powerful quote with the students from the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire who said, “You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

According to Adrienne Ramm-Granberg, Senior Development Coordinator at IRC, the top nationalities resettled nationally (in order) in Fiscal Year 2017 were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Burma, Ukraine, Bhutan, Iran, Eritrea, and Afghanistan.

“In the Seattle area, we saw a lot higher numbers from Ukraine and Afghanistan than the national averages,” Ramm-Granberg said. The IRC website indicates that over 65 million people worldwide are currently uprooted by crisis.

Bouman taught weekly classes, assisted by volunteer, Angela Riley, a skilled crocheter and employee of Mad Cow Yarn in the Town Center at Lake Forest Park. “The students were excited and eager to do something artistic to make a difference,” Riley observed. “And they all picked up the skill of crocheting really easily.”

Students had the opportunity to make two rugs, one they could keep for themselves and one to gift to the IRC. Some students went beyond that expectation and donated two or more rugs.

“Community and kindness are current themes in our school,” King said. She believes that making Refugee Welcome Mats expanded this idea beyond school borders. “It was exciting for students to learn that they could have an impact on others in the wider community.”

A Shorecrest student practices crocheting.

Sophomore Chloe Dews, said, “In our school, we focus on treating people well. Making these rugs gives us the chance to spend time with each other while doing something good for others.”

Senior Antoine Telford said, “I’ve never even moved before, so if I can help make someone who has lost everything a little happier, it makes me feel better. And what we did helps put the problem on other people’s radar.”

Some students, like Sophomore Victoria Sepulveda already knew how to crochet.

“I learned how to crochet as a child from my great-aunt who came to this country in the 1980s from Chili.” Sepulveda, who made and donated several rugs said, “It gives me a nice feeling to know that something I made will be in someone else’s home.”

While Sophomore Emma Howlett was already aware that there was a refugee problem, she said, “I didn’t know they were coming into the Seattle area.”

Joy Chen, also a Sophomore, took the class because she wanted an important life-skill — like crocheting. “Not only is it calming to do, but it was nice to use my hands and know I’m doing something that helps others,” Chen said.

Not only did students build compassion and life skills, they also learned a creative way to recycle cloth. According to the 2015-2016 Washington State Waste Characterization Study by the State of Washington Department of Ecology, 91,615 tons of textiles are discarded state-wide annually. “Using fabric to make these rugs keeps it out of the landfill,” Bouman said.

Bouman is currently setting up a similar project through the King County Library system, funded by Silver Kites, an organization which designs and facilitates life changing intergenerational arts experiences.

These projects are an offshoot of a volunteer effort started in 2016 to make rag rugs to welcome refugees to the Pacific Northwest, started by Bouman and fellow Lake Forest Park resident, Luanne Brown.

If you’d like to learn how to crochet a refugee welcome mat, Bouman and Brown hold work parties the first Saturday of every month at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park, from 10am to 1pm. The next work party is Saturday, March 3, 2018. Third Place Commons is on the upper level of Town Center, where Ballinger Way meets Bothell Way in LFP.

More information on Refugee Welcome Mats, including a gallery of the rugs that have already been donated, here.


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