Handy bag skills help­ing cre­ate a bet­ter life

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

Most women rely on their hand­bags to some ex­tent, but a Colom­bian refugee liv­ing in Aotea has de­pended on hers to put food on the ta­ble and send her kids to school.

Glei­des Gar­cia Restrepo, 37, left her civil war-torn coun­try for Ecuador in 2005, but life was hardly bet­ter across the bor­der. Mrs Restrepo and her hus­band Gus­tavo had owned a res­tau­rant and a liquor shop in Colom­bia, but could only find work wait­ing ta­bles in Quito. For a day’s work from 8am to 6pm, she earned NZ$5.

Stand­ing on her feet all day led to blood clots in her legs, but in­jec­tions to re­lieve them cost $40 a day. She couldn’t af­ford to send her three sons to school. ‘‘Oh, it was very hard. Peo­ple are just stuck – no home, no money, no work.’’

One night she left her hun­gry fam­ily with an arm­load of hand­bags she’d made from rub­ber in­ner tyres, and sold enough to feed ev­ery­one.

‘‘My chil­dren were like, wow! Mum, I love you!’’ She laughs.

Soon she was asked to give hand­bag-mak­ing classes to 40 other Colom­bian refugees in Ecuador, who were keen to repli­cate her suc­cess.

In 2010 the Restrepo fam­ily were given the green light to move to New Zealand, and set­tled in Porirua. Life was tough at first, with Mrs Restrepo barely speak­ing a word of English on ar­rival.

‘‘My English was ‘ yes, no, thank you’, ‘ yes, no, thank you’.’’

She is now en­rolled in a Whi­tireia lan­guage course and vol­un­teers at St Vin­cent de Paul to prac­tise her English and meet new friends. See­ing all the fab­ric and clothes at the op shop has got Mrs Restrepo mak­ing bags again, which she sells for $ 10 to $ 20 at the Mun­gavin Ave shop.

Many of the bags are made from old jeans, but some are from dresses and coats or fab­ric do­nated to the shop.

‘‘Ev­ery one is dif­fer­ent,’’ Mrs Restrepo says.

She once res­cued ma­te­rial from the bin and later showed her fel­low work­ers the bag she’d made from it.

‘‘I went back and said ‘ oh, re­mem­ber this ma­te­rial – you were go­ing to throw it in the rub­bish!’’’ she says. ‘‘ They say, wow, you’re re­ally clever!’’

Handy bags: Colom­bian refugee Glei­des Gar­cia Restrepo made and sold bags to feed her fam­ily in Ecuador, and has con­tin­ued her cot­tage in­dus­try here in


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