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Unveiling of the Karen Quilt, The Quilted Conscience Project at Joslyn Museum

February 10, 2015

Fountain Court in the Joslyn Art Museum was filled with eager quilters Thursday evening as they awaited the unveiling of a very symbolic patchwork quilt.

The quilters stood and applauded as student refugees from Benson High School and their families entered the room. Waves and hellos were exchanged between the quilters and students as the students took their seats for the presentation of a quilt they hard worked very hard on.

The Quilted Conscience Project (TQC Project) is a program that encourages respect and friendship between immigrant or refugee children and American communities through quilting workshops.

In September 2014, the Joslyn hosted a weeklong workshop for 20 Karen students. A majority of these students came from camps along the Thai-Burma border and now attend Benson High School in Omaha. These students are also part of Omaha Public Schools’ ESL/Refugee and Migrant Education program.

Volunteer quilters from around the Omaha community assisted the teens in designing the quilt. Each student crafted two squares—one with a memory from their homeland and one with a dream of their future in the United States.

Gail Dickel, an Omaha quilter who worked with the students, recalled one student crafting a mountain in his square to represent a famous landmark from his homeland. Dickel then noticed one girl’s patchwork was of a nurse. It symbolizes her dream to work in healthcare one day.

Dickel expressed what she took from working with the refugees and its impact on the Omaha community.

“I liked it because I wasn’t very aware of what a large community the refugees are. It kind of familiarized me more with them. It puts value on their culture and helps to share it with the other people in the community,” Dickel said.

One of the students spoke to the audience explaining his experience and expressing his thanks.

“The first day I came I didn’t like it, but a then at the end I thought it was really cool because we got to talk about our experience and our past story,” the student said. “I want to think our teachers and staff for welcoming us here and our culture.”

All of the students lined up in front of the audience and sang “May God Bless You” in Burmese. Three female students performed a dance, wearing green garments, white headpieces and face paint reflecting the Burma culture.

Following the performances everyone in the room counted down from ten as two students carefully unveiled a very bright and colorful patchwork quilt. The smiles, clapping and camera flashes celebrated the sense of meaning the quilt held for the students and helpers.

Mary Cave, who quilted the piece, was at the unveiling and acknowledged for her work. Cave has been quilting for about ten years, but this was her first year working with TQC Project. Cave explained the very meticulous and labor-intensive process of quilting. This project took her around 20 hours. Cave noted how impressed she was with the students.

“It’s amazing what these kids came up with,” Cave said.

John Sorensen, project director, started TQC workshops in Grand Island, Nebraska. Additional locations have opened in Lincoln and Omaha as well.

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