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By Fr. Robert Ratajczak SVD
The COVID-19 pandemic has really changed everything for everyone, including the people of Antigua and Barbuda. Tourism is the main source of income on this small Caribbean island, so when the pandemic hit, it had a huge impact on the economy. In June 2020, the government of Antigua and Barbuda started to reopen tourist facilities, but unfortunately, not many tourists were coming back. They expected that it would take a few years before things went back to normal.
As the government started to shift from immediate crisis management to recovery efforts, issues emerged. One of them was the increasing number of people who lost their jobs, which was especially hard for immigrant Hispanic families who often have temporary contracts.
Recently, the government of Antigua decided not to give work permits to new immigrants, which could make things even harder for these families. Our Hispanic pastoral team could not leave anyone behind in our response and recovery efforts, especially those people who were already most vulnerable before the crisis. After speaking with members of our Hispanic immigrant community, I noticed that many of them were struggling to adjust to their new lives in this country.
They expressed a desire to learn new skills and connect with others in their community. As a Divine Word Missionary, I have always believed in the importance of helping others and giving back to the community.
I noticed that many of the women in our congregation were struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families.
After doing some research, I realized that starting a sewing project could lead to an income source and allow them to create their own clothes and save money. With that in mind, I decided to offer sewing classes. The response has been overwhelming, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
The classes were held in our Hispanic Catholic Center, where the women would gather every week with their sewing machines and fabrics. The atmosphere was electric. As the women chattered excitedly, they helped each other with their projects.
They were all at different levels of experience, but they encouraged each other to keep going and to keep learning. The challenges they faced were not insignificant.
Many of the women had to balance their sewing classes with part-time jobs, caring for their families and other responsibilities. But they persevered, fueled by their passion for sewing and the support of our community.
One of the most inspiring stories came from Maria, a mother of three who had migrated from the Dominican Republic. Maria had never had the opportunity to go to school, and she struggled to read and write, but when it came to sewing, she was a natural.
She quickly picked up the basics and started creating beautiful garments for her family. With the help of the other women in the class, Maria also started to improve her literacy skills. She would bring her young daughter to the classes and teach her how to sew as well, passing on the skills she had learned.
As Ana, another participant in the sewing classes, shared, "I never imagined that something as simple as learning to sew could change my life so much. I feel proud of what I have accomplished and grateful for the amazing community of women of which I have become a part. "
The Hispanic pastoral team is proof that with hard work, determination and support from each other, anything is possible. Going forward, I hope to expand the program and offer even more opportunities for education and growth within our community. Sewing is a practical and useful skill, and it also can be a creative outlet that brings people together.
By launching this project, we hope to provide a welcoming and supportive space for people to learn and grow, and to help build a stronger, more connected community.
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