Handy bag skills helping create a better life
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