Lending a voice to the voiceless -- through fashion

Courtney Erickson, Director of Social Enterprise for Refugee & Migrant Women Initiative, Inc (RAMWI), at Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa, Florida, on November 18, 2021. (Jeremy Allen)

Teaching new skills to those who could benefit from them is one of the core ways a time bank operates.

Our first visit in Tampa, Florida brought us to a group of women who are selling fashionable tote bags and jewelry, all made by themselves.

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We visited the Refugee & Migrant Women Initiative, Inc., or RAMWI. The founding director of the group, Florence Ackey, gave us the lowdown on RAMWI and how these refugee and migrant women are making a difference in the community.

At RAMWI’s event, there were booths set up with colorful tote bags, necklaces, bracelets, table runners and more. Ackey knows how much they are helping these women who are new to America, but she knows it’s because they are giving them the resources and step-up in life that they need.

Ackey added, “We let you borrow our voice temporarily.”

RAMWI Director of Social Enterprises, Courtney Erickson, said the pursuit of producing goods for the public gives these women purpose and a sense of self-worth.

“We have women who come in, and their eyes are downcast. They look at the floor. They have been battered by their experiences, and the world has told them over and over and over again that they don’t matter. They don’t belong. They have no place,” Erickson said.

But sewing is therapeutic, Erickson said, adding that the process and experience of working within a community creates nurturing that is much-needed.

“After a couple of months, they’re laughing in our groups, and then it’s really about the sense of pride that you see start to take hold,” Erickson said.

When you’re walking through the booths and see the colorful and creative items that were made by the women, you can sense that everyone there is proud of the work they accomplished. They are not only learning to sew, but they’re becoming entrepreneurs in the process, too.

RAMWI is eight years old now, and it started with an idea, some heart, and a lot of empathy.

“I have that desire to empower women because we know by the time they come here, the amount of resiliency that refugee women have shown is incredible,” Ackey said.

She added that providing opportunities and a supportive network is what it’s all about.

“There are different ways of giving back, and that’s how we measure our success. It’s really not a matter of just financial, but how are they making the community better? How do they possess a skill that will maybe bring a solution to something in a community, or to an individual life?,” Ackey said.

Ackey noted that RAMWI’s vision lines up perfectly with the time bank’s.

They both work hand-in-hand.

By the end of the event, the women in RAMWI who made products, marketed them and sold them will have learned more about owning their own small business than they probably ever thought they could.

And in true time bank spirit, hopefully, they will take the trades and tricks they’ve learned and teach someone else how to become an entrepreneur.

About the Authors

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.

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