Syrian in Switzerland quilts for homeland

Mar 16, 2015 by and

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MUTTENZ, Switzerland — There is a difference of opinion when it comes to color choice in the quilting group at Brügg Mennonite Church. For Gulschin Ibrahim, the Swiss tendency to choose similar tones and colors is a bit boring. In Syria, where Ibrahim is from, people like brighter shades, and more of them.

Gulschin Ibrahim, left, Margrit Amstutz and Ute Wüst are members of Swiss quilting groups that donate handmade blankets to MCC relief work. — Nina Linton/MCC

Gulschin Ibrahim, left, Margrit Amstutz and Ute Wüst are members of Swiss quilting groups that donate handmade blankets to MCC relief work. — Nina Linton/MCC

“She tells us we’re doing the colors all wrong,” said quilter Margrit Amstutz with a laugh.The disagreement on colors is only a joke. It doesn’t stop the group from sewing and donating quilts to Mennonite Central Committee. After all, it was sending blankets to Syria that made Ibrahim, who left Syria before the war, join the group in the first place.

Though she doesn’t attend the Mennonite church, Ibrahim was invited to join the group after meeting quilter Therese Broglie at an event in support of undocumented immigrants and refugees.

“Therese told me they’re doing things for Syria,” Ibrahim said. “Syria is my country, and I’d like to help my people.”

The Brügg group is one of three in Switzerland making quilts for Syria, where more than 7.5 million people are internally displaced and more than 12 million need assistance.

Swiss Mennonite churches worked with congregations in France to ship one container of relief supplies to Syria through MCC in January 2013. The shipment contained 1,500 hygiene kits, 65 handmade quilts, 294 purchased blankets, 791 relief kits and 144 pairs of handmade socks, along with other supplies like towels and sheets. They are now collecting materials for another container.

Since quilting is not a traditional craft in Switzerland, people wondered why they used small squares for the comforters instead of making simpler blankets.

“People thought we were crazy,” Amstutz said. Others said they should “just take a duvet cover or a wool blanket” or put big pieces together and be done.

But she told her church that the details are significant.

“I said for people in war it’s important that we make a nice blanket,” she said. “It’s important that they realize that it’s something beautiful that people made for them.”

The quilters often think about Syria and why the blankets are needed. Those thoughts stay with Broglie even when she’s not cutting fabric or tying quilts.

“What particularly reinforces this thinking about it throughout the week is that Gulschin is in our group, who’s from Syria, and we know what this war means for this family and for her, and we see how they suffer even at a distance,” she said.

Quilting is a way that Broglie can show compassion for those who are suffering, even from her home in Switzerland.

“It’s an opportunity to live my faith,” she said. “It’s not just a construct of ideas, it’s something that is practical — to live the love that we talk about.”

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