Women’s Global Village:

Dreaming and healing together

a group of six women smile in a classroom

In the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, immigrant women are healing, connecting and creating through a project called Women’s Global Village.

Women’s Global Village, founded in 2022, is a dream of Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, who has been active in peace- and community-building in the Lancaster community for over 33 years.

Elizabeth Soto holds an artwork she created
Elizabeth Soto, who founded Women's Global Village, holds up a work of art that represents her dream for the program. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

Elizabeth’s own migration story and experiences working in the country of Colombia with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and other organizations have helped form her dream of empowering women through sewing and economic opportunities.

Elizabeth says, “Immigrant women are here…We talk about international [ministries], but my argument is that global has arrived, and how are we engaging?”

She answers her own question: “We’re empowering them to do something and feel useful.”

Through Women’s Global Village, immigrant women register for a 12-week class that meets at Hub450 on North Prince Street. Hub450 is a community center owned by Eastern Mennonite Missions that emphasizes hospitality and connection with the local immigrant and refugee community.

Each weekly gathering includes an art class, a snack and time for sewing. The first and last week of the program are spent connecting and hearing each other’s stories. Many of the women who participate are Afghan, Bhutanese, Burmese or Ukrainian. Childcare is provided.

Participants receive $12 an hour to sew simple, beautiful and useful products like plate and bowl cozies and zipper pouches. The products are sold at various retail locations in Lancaster City. Each item bears a tag signed by the artist.

a handsewn pouch with a tag with a handwritten name
A hand-sewn pouch made by one of the women at Women's Global Village features her handwritten name on the tag. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

Not only do the women earn income, but more importantly, they attend class to connect with other immigrant women, hone their English language skills and access work opportunities.

MCC East Coast was the first organization to grant financial support to Women’s Global Village. MCC’s support pays participants for their sewing labor and teachers for their efforts guiding participants through the projects.

Rolando Flores-Rentas serves with MCC East Coast as Southcentral Pennsylvania Program Coordinator. He says, “This project recognizes the importance of emotional healing for women, especially those who have experienced trauma. [It] provides a safe space for immigrant women to meet, share their experiences and practice art as a means of emotional healing, individually and collectively.”

Roohafza Emami is an artist and seamstress from Afghanistan who arrived in Lancaster nine months ago with her four children. She was a participant and is now a teacher and interpreter in the program. Roohafza says, “For me, I like to join with women. I think this program helps women to get their independence.” Roohafza wants to exhibit her art and become a businesswoman in Lancaster.

Looking to the future of Women’s Global Village, Elizabeth is exploring the possibility of filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status or inviting a business to come alongside them. She dreams of empowering 10-12 women permanently and having a storefront in Lancaster city to bring greater visibility to the diverse crafts and contributions of immigrant women.

A woman sewing on a sewing machine
A Women's Global Village participant sews at a machine. MCC photo/Yujin Kim

Roohafza and the other participants have dreams for themselves, their children and their communities. And they will accomplish their dreams with the support of Women’s Global Village, MCC East Coast and other community partners.

Elizabeth says, “I want the city to know that we’re here. These women are so thankful that the doors have been opened for them to come to the country. This is the way they’re giving back.”

“Here we are,” Elizabeth says. “Immigrant women are here, from the margins to the marketplace - together.”

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and release to the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
   and the day of vengeance of our God,
   to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.


Isaiah 61:1-3 (NRSV)