Students Launch Refugee Artisan Initiative

Rukhshana Tuli ’12 (left), Judith Stapleton ’12 (center) and Rabin Pokhrel ’15 work at the Atma stand at First Friday in downtown Lancaster on March 9.

On May 12, graduating seniors May Aung, Judith Stapleton and Rukhshana Tuli began making the transition to post-college life. Before then, they were helping local residents make transitions of their own—to a new country.

They launched “Atma: The Refugee Artisan Initiative,” a program designed to empower refugees in Lancaster through craft workshops led by F&M students. The students’ mission is to help refugee women gain a measure of financial independence through the production and sale of artisanal products on the F&M campus and in the community. The program is named “Atma” after the Sanskrit word meaning “self,” or “true self.”

Throughout this semester, the students ran biweekly workshops to teach women how to make a variety of earrings, bracelets and necklaces. They designed the program for women because it is common for refugee women to stay at home and remain isolated from the community while their husbands work, the students said. The students are also helping the refugees improve their limited English skills.

Through previous contact with local refugees, Aung and Tuli realized that many refugee women had artisanal skills. Aung helped refugee families settle in Lancaster as part of F&M’s “Citizenship” course, a community-based learning seminar that undertakes an interdisciplinary examination of the concept and practice of citizenship. Tuli worked with Church World Service— one of the leading refugee resettlement agencies in Lancaster—through F&M’s Public Service Summer Internship (PSSI), a seven-week paid summer program at the College.

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