14 Feb 2019

Sewing - a life saver for Palmerston North refugee family

From Checkpoint, 5:51 pm on 14 February 2019

The simple act of sewing is proving a life-saver for a refugee family living in Palmerston North.

Shenenas Norbasha, her husband Mohammad and their two teenage children arrived in New Zealand in September last year as refugees from Myanmar. 

It's been a tough few years for the family after they were forced to leave their home country.

However, the generosity of kiwis has helped bring them joy and happiness. 

Sitting pride of place at the dining table - and with a beaming smile - Mrs Norbasha fires up her trusty sewing machine.

She's working on a new garment on a machine donated to the Red Cross and given to the family to help ends meet. 

After moving to New Zealand in September, the couple's youngest child's school uniform was far too big - so she decided to alter it herself.

She quickly found the knack for it after years of not being able to sew.  

Her husband translated her words when speaking with Checkpoint.  

"So after she got this machine her whole body was moving ... it is like exercising ... she said she doesn't need the doctor anymore - no more high blood pressure," he said. 

"Happy," added Mrs Norbasha. 

The family were forced to flee Myanmar after their land, home and farm were confiscated by the government. 

After more than a decade as refugees, they've made their way to New Zealand after spending time in Thailand, Malaysia, as well as Indonesia. 

Mr Norbasha vividly recounts having no food, water or shelter to protect his wife and children. 

The stress of the situation can still be seen in his eyes and his expression.

"In our country, we have to worry about tomorrow - what will happen to me, or my family, if I leave them at home ... after I come back from my work - are they still alive or not - or I will only find their bodies," he said.  

In a matter of weeks since getting her hands on the sewing machine, Mrs Norbasha has created many outfits, pillow cases and floor mats. 

Her favourite colour is blue and the quality and care would match anything found on a high street.

Shenenas Norbasha (centre) showing her creations she's made since receiving the sewing machine from the Red Cross. Pictured with her husband Mohammad (right) and the family's Red Cross volunteer, Esmee Rowden (left).

Photo: RNZ / Jonothan Mitchell

Red Cross volunteer Esmee Rowden said the sewing machine had been a life-changer. 

"If she (Shenenas) didn't have this - I think she would have been heading towards being depressed in a general sense - simply because she didn't have the means to get out and about - so it has added a real quality to her life I think," she said.

Overall, Ms Rowden said a shout-out on social media had resulted in 70 or more sewing machines being donated.

And with Mrs Norbasha's skills, she's offered to help other refugees learn to sew.  

"She has offered already to help other women get familiar with their sewing machines and so I think refugees will help each other," Mrs Rowden said. 

The plan was to distribute all the sewing machines around the country - in addition to fabric and essential items - to other refugees and people in need.