If you’ve passed through the basement of the YK Centre on Franklin Avenue recently, you may have noticed the sounds of sewing machines clacking away.

Hard at work in the space that used to house Gourmet Cup are volunteer sewers who have spent the last four months turning recycled, donated fabric into new, colourful handbags.

It’s a chance for them to practise their language skills in their new home country.

The project, an initiative of the NWT Literacy Council’s Community Connections program, aims to give newcomers to Yellowknife from all parts of the world the chance to practise their English language skills while contributing to a sustainable project.

As organizer Karen Johnson explained, the volunteers learn more than either sewing or language skills.

“The ladies are sewing, but while they’re sewing they might have a conversation about daycare,” she says. “‘How do I get daycare?’ Or, ‘How do I sign my kids up for swimming lessons?’”

The project is an outgrowth of Boomerang Bags, an Australian-based non-profit that promotes the recycling of plastics and other materials by turning them into handbags. This particular project was made possible thanks to a grant from the GNWT’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Initiative.

Volunteers have been hard at work since March, and Johnson says they will have more than 60 bags to sell at the Ramble and Ride at the end of the month.

For volunteer Duyen Nguyen, who has been living in Yellowknife, the appeal of the project is simple: “I can speak English with people, I have new friends, and the people are friendly,” she says.

Organizer Karen Johnson with some of her volunteers, from left to right: Johnson, Sriyani Hettiarachcige, Duyen Nguyen, Vinh Vui, Jenny Tucker. Ian Down/NNSL photo

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