How Quilting Is Bringing Boise Kids And Refugees Together

Jul 3, 2015

A visiting Boise State professor has spent this week trying to get Idaho children to connect with refugee children.

The “Quilting to Speak” workshop is the brainchild of Reshmi Mukherjee. She’s a visiting professor at Boise State, and is teaching a course this summer about communication between refugees and non-refugees.

Mukherjee wraps up a five day workshop Friday that's brought six Idaho-born kids and six refugee kids together. The children are between 12-15 years-old, and are paired up and taught how to sew quilts. The workshop is a social experiment to teach the kids to communicate through the medium. Mukherjee says it’s a way to bring young people from very different worlds together.

“This is mainly [about] communication between two groups of people, who for linguistic, economic, and other social reasons, don’t usually get to interact with each other,” says Mukherjee.

The kids spent the week tucked away in the community room of Boise’s International Market. They sit at tables, carefully designing quilt squares. They started off making an individual quilt square for themselves. Now they’re working in pairs, sharing the creation of another square.

“The interesting thing will be to see how much they’re willing to share with the other person. That starts with choosing colors, the cloth they want; are they going to divide it into equal halves?”

Kids learn how to quilt together, finding a common language through the craft.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

A lot of the kids in the workshop are into soccer. Mukherjee says they may build on that common bond when making a square.

“Are they going to say, 'You know what, you like soccer, I like soccer – let’s start building on something to do with soccer.' I’ll be very interested in seeing what’s going on there,” she says.

Kids in the workshop must collaborate on a quilting square, choosing colors, cloth, and pictures as a team.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Mukherjee says it’s important to start with kids who don’t have some of the prejudice that adults do.

“There is a huge divide between the refugee and non-refugee community.”

She wants to expand the workshop into Nampa schools in the future. The squares will be sewn into one big quilt and put on display. She’s also making a documentary about the whole process.

Mukherjee says her goal is to get the kids to overcome social barriers and forge a friendship.

“My hope is they’re the future generation and hopefully they will create a better society and make Boise into a truly multi-cultural one.”

Each child sews an Individual quilt square first, before joining with a partner for a jointly made square.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

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