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Creating Quilts Helps Ease Trauma of War, Violence

  • Bob Morris

The psychological effects of war, discrimination or violent extremism can last for generations. But sometimes pieces of cloth, woven into stories, can help ease the pain.

Around the world — in countries such as Kenya, Bangladesh, Peru, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and anywhere else human rights abuses have taken place — pieces of cloth are crafted by the victims who suffered but survived … or by the relatives of those who didn't.

Those individual pieces of artwork are the result of local organizations providing therapy and skills-training to the victims — mostly women. Each square tells of their nightmares or, sometimes, their hopes for the future.

"You feel the anger and the despair and just frustration and the difficulty of a life with the effects of the war," said Susan Schreurs of the Faithful Circle Quilting Guild.

Weaving stories together

Once the pieces of cloth are created and gathered together, they are assembled into quilts by volunteers in the United States. The quilts then go on display internationally, through an effort coordinated by a group called The Advocacy Project.

“Many of these women have no education,” said Iain Guest, the group’s executive director. “But when they come together and they're offered the chance to talk about their experience, to express it through art and embroidery, they find a skill and that is very exciting."

Giorgia Nicatore, an Advocacy Project Fellow who worked in Mali, agrees.

"What I did see in Bamako was the women really did benefit,” she said. “Not only from the skills training they received, but also — and especially — from being able to express their stories, talk to each other and be in the company of other women who had experienced similar situations as them."

Powerful, personal

The squares — whether embroidered, knitted, or woven — offer powerful and personal messages about civil war and extremists.

One picture, Nicatore said, “depicts a woman who had gone to the market and wasn't wearing the appropriate attire [per Sharia] according to these groups, and actually was flogged in public."

It is the sharing of such painful, personal stories on cloth that makes the U.S. quilters’ task so special, Shreurs says.

"You're handling something that a woman has made with her own hands,” she said. “So it's a very potent way of telling a story."

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