Daniel Zhao

Yale’s Office of International Students & Scholars will be booming with women selling homemade handicrafts in honor of International Women’s Day on Sunday.

New Haven refugee resettlement agency Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, also known as IRIS, is collaborating with OISS to bring the craft sale to the office for the first time. All of the female vendors who will be present on the day have attended or are currently attending one of IRIS’ wellness groups. The sale is a way for the women to earn their own income outside the home, interact with other New Haven residents and take pride in their work. The event is also a part of OISS’ 50WomenatYale150 programming.

“We’re just hoping that people come out for International Women’s Day and come and look around and hopefully find something very unique and something that speaks to them,” said Jennifer FitzGerald, IRIS wellness group coordinator and event organizer, in an interview with the News. “This is a way that the women really feel empowered to contribute to their household income and also just to be able to see that somebody else likes what they created.”

The local nonprofit extends employment and resettlement opportunities to refugees and immigrants in the Greater New Haven area, according to its website. IRIS is well-known for, among other community roles, its annual 5k Run for Refugees hosted each Super Bowl Sunday in East Rock, where the organization is based.

Much as IRIS operates to integrate newly arrived residents in New Haven, OISS attempts to ease the transition into Yale and the United States for international students and staff members and build community once they have arrived on campus. There are over 6000 Yale community members from 120 different countries, according to the OISS website.

IRIS has been doing similar craft sales in support of its female clients for several years, but this is the first year that they are bringing the sale on to campus and tying the event to International Women’s Day, which is celebrated annually on March 8. According to FitzGerald, IRIS has usually held biannual craft sales at the First Presbyterian Church on Whitney Avenue in East Rock, one as a holiday sale in early winter and another as a summer sale. The summer sale had not been generating much interest and First Presbyterian told FitzGerald that it was no longer interested in hosting the summer event.

FitzGerald and OISS Assistant Director of Programs & Communications Molly Hampton had previously discussed plans to create an art project with participants in IRIS’ English-learning classes for International Women’s Day, but those plans did not pan out. The idea for the craft sale grew out of those preliminary conversations, according to FitzGerald.

Event organizers are expecting 20 to 25 vendors and a couple hundred visitors from the Yale and New Haven communities. The vendors are or have been a part of one of IRIS’ wellness groups based on art-making — sewing, knitting or jewelry-making — and will represent a host of nations, including Afghanistan, Syria and the Congo. The women will be selling a wide variety of goods including handbags, embroidery and soap. In addition, there will be homemade food for purchase alongside family recipes for those interested in mixing it up in the kitchen for themselves.

“I’m in charge of all of our programming that we do and we try to always be conscious of working with New Haven organizations and within the New Haven community,” Hampton told the News in an interview. “I was in talks with IRIS and we thought ‘why don’t we help support women and do an International Women’s Day craft sale on International Women’s Day and we’ll do that this year because of the 50Women at Yale150 initiative.’”

FitzGerald hopes that the sale will give vendors the opportunity to meet other members of the New Haven community and practice their English skills in the process. In addition, many of the artists do not work outside of their homes, so the craft sale is a rare opportunity to earn their own income, according to Ann O’Brien, IRIS’ Director of Community Engagement.

“It’s getting back to our real mission about wanting folks to be self sufficient and integrated, as well as for their cultures to enrich our communities,” said O’Brien in an interview with the News. “There are folks within the local community that would love to buy those [crafts] and to have things that are handmade by somebody from another country that has imbued it with their own culture.”

The IRIS-sponsored craft sales are an outgrowth of its wellness group program that focuses on helping newly-arrived women feel more comfortable in New Haven and build community with other recent arrivals to the Elm City. About 60 women participated in the wellness groups during the last session, according to O’Brien.

This is not the first time IRIS and OISS have collaborated. IRIS representatives have spoken to participants in OISS’ International Spouses and Partners at Yale program, or ISPY for short, about volunteer opportunities in the past. In fact, ISPY members will be volunteering to help setup and take down the event on Sunday.

IRIS is well-known throughout the Yale community as well. Around 380 students run in the Run for Refugees each year alongside other Yale affiliates. In the past, OISS has sent a contingent of its own to the race as well. In addition, about 60 Yalies volunteer at IRIS each year through the Yale Refugee Project.

IRIS was founded as the Diocesan Refugee Services Committee in 1982.


Jose Davila IV | jose.davilaiv@yale.edu

Jose Davila currently serves as a Public Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale-New Haven Relations as a staff reporter and served as a Managing Editor. He is a senior in Morse College majoring in Global Affairs.