Inside a Glen Ellyn studio, a mom from Somalia laughs easily with a mom from Myanmar.
A few steps away, sewing machines are humming and two women are cracking jokes in Turkish.
This is their sanctuary, a place where they've started to heal, to build friendships despite different languages and cultures.
"The ladies working here are all ready to help," says Za Lian Mawi, whose husband fled Myanmar and a military that forced him into labor.
Years later, Mawi and her daughters would settle with him in the U.S.
She is one of the most advanced artisans at Re:new, a nonprofit group that hires refugee women and sells their handcrafted handbags.
"I love sewing, and owning my own machine is my dream," she says.
For these women, their employers say, the work is clearly more than a job.
"Our model here, our business, is really just a vehicle to provide a space for refugee women to thrive, to start healing, to reconnect with hope, to think through what kind of life they want to build here in the United States," Executive Director Susan Tripi DeLano says.
Re:new is planning to move to a downtown storefront on Main Street, where Tripi De Lano hopes to hire more artisans and educate customers about the challenges facing refugee women in DuPage County. A three-week, CrowdRise campaign has been launched to raise $50,000 for the remodel of the former Flour Barrel Bakery in a building that dates to the 1920s and for other costs associated with the transition.
"There's a sense of isolation initially. There's a sense of disconnect from the larger community," Tripi DeLano said. "In some cases, the language barrier plays into that, but just starting over again, there are so many uncertainties and anxieties around that. So there's a huge need just to have an outlet to feel safe, heard, supported."
Mawi was quiet, didn't speak much English and had never sewed when she arrived at Re:new in 2012. She's now one of the most fluent artisans and takes on almost a managerial position, helping to run the sewing studio and the shop at 250 Pennsylvania Ave. She's soft-spoken and warm, shaking hands with both of her own.
"A lot of times when they first to come us, they are very withdrawn," said Holly Setran, a founding board member. "And then after a few months here, to see their joy and the other women love them and embrace them ... the power of friendships of women -- that has really been inspiring."
Setran teaches a sewing class that meets Fridays and uses a special curriculum for women who don't speak English.
"The things that we get upset about and that devastate are so trivial compared to what these woman have experienced and endured," she said.
They have survived "unspeakable atrocities" involving war and religious persecution. Many still are disconnected from close family in the places they fled.
But at Re:new, women can share "their hurt and their pain," Setran said.
"I think creating things brings healing in its own right," Setran said. "To make something beautiful and to see someone else buy and enjoy it, it just brings a lot of joy."
The women turn colorful fabric donated from upholstery stores and other businesses into handbags, clutches, eyeglass cases and accessories. Every price tag names the artisan and their native country. The proceeds from the sales go back to the nonprofit's operations.
Development Director Beth Johnson sees Re:new as a starting point for women, many of whom hope to open their own business. They work part-time and flexible hours. And over a potluck lunch, they bring ethnic dishes and speak only in English.
They soon pick up the language and the skills to land other jobs, Johnson said.
"The friendship and the community that we offer, that's really the thing I love the most," Johnson said. "Getting to know these lovely women and where they've been and where their hopes and dreams are and providing a launching pad."
In downtown Glen Ellyn, Tripi De Lano hopes to attract more shoppers and to build relationships with other nonprofits and businesses. That will help connect refugees to resources on health care, education, job counseling, and citizenship, she said. To donate to the online fundraiser, visit Crowdrise.com.
"I'm really excited to see how this move is going to provide Re:new with a larger platform of education within the community," Tripi De Lano said. "To provide not only beautiful handbags, but more importantly to share the stories of these women who have endured such hardship in their lives."