Ubah Abdi Mohamud steps into her lounge modelling an emerald dress with flowing ivory train, beaming with pride. For the last few months she’s been developing her cutting and pattern-making skills to be able to make clothing she can wear and sell.

Ubah Abdi Mohamud arrived in New Zealand in 2018, eager to build a life in her new home. She had previously worked as a curtain maker in Somalia, where she acquired valuable sewing skills.

“I worked in a curtain factory,” Ubah says. “When I worked there I would take just two hours to make a set of curtains.”

On arriving in Wellington, Ubah was connected with the New Zealand Red Cross Pathways to Employment team. She and Cris Mirkin, New Zealand Red Cross Employment Assessor/Advisor, began to develop a pathway plan.

As part of our Pathways to Employment programme, Employment Assessor/Advisors like Cris work closely with former refugees to develop a plan based on their employment goals for the future.

Cris is creative by nature, and often the pathway to employment for new Kiwis is just as creative.

With Theresa's help, Ubah now has the skills to create and sell her own designs. 

While working with Ubah, Cris discovered Ubah’s creativity and talent for sewing, and saw an opportunity to help her develop those skills. She contacted her friend Theresa Gallacher, a fellow crafter, to see if she could help.

“Cris asked if I could help Ubah learn to draft a pattern from her existing clothes. She has had a lot of experience sewing but the patterns were always cut in advance by her employer,” says Theresa.

To help Ubah get to her sewing sessions with Theresa, the Red Cross team provided her with a Snapper card loaded with funds for travel.

For two months, Theresa and Ubah have worked together to source materials, and to cut and sew beautiful garments. Theresa also shared her knowledge around finding and adjusting old patterns with Ubah.

“I took her to a charity shop,” Theresa shares, “and explained that she could purchase patterns very cheaply, and showed her how they could be adapted.”

“I was very happy to help Ubah, she is a caring and affectionate woman.”

Ubah is proud of the items that she has created with Theresa’s help. She explains that she styled the elegant green gown similar to a cultural wedding dress from Somalia.

“This was very confusing,” Ubah says as she points to a delicate rosette. “It took a lot of time because I wasn’t sure how to cut it.”

“Theresa helped me cut the patterns and material, and I sewed them.”

With these new dressmaking skills under her belt, Ubah is now considering selling her creations.

Theresa helped Ubah to cut the dress, and worked with her on the detailed finishing. 

Help former refugees on their employment journey

For Theresa, working with Ubah has been a positive and memorable experience.

“Ubah was very keen to learn,” Theresa says. “She is eager to work and earn a living.”

Finding employment provides former refugees with financial independence and also offers them the opportunity to use their skills and give back to their community. There are lots of things you can do to support former refugees in your neighbourhood: