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Refugees connect and contribute to the community through Rhododendron Crafts

Dik Bir working on a loom.

Dik Bir working on a loom. /Jennifer Holshoe

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Look for Rhododendron on World Fair Trade Day

Rhododendron Crafts will celebrate World Fair Trade Day on May 14.  Keep your peepers peeled--details are forthcoming.

Dil Maya and Dik Bir Powdyel.

Dil Maya and Dik Bir Powdyel. /Jennifer Holshoe

Jessica Ennis selling rugs at a home craft show.

Jessica Ennis selling rugs at a home craft show. /Prasha Maharjan

Jessica Ennis met Bhutanese-Nepali refugees Dik Bir and Dil Maya Powdyel about a year ago through the New Neighbor Program at Bethany Christian Services, where she volunteers as an AmeriCorps Vista member. The first time she visited the Powdyels’ new home in Kentwood, they offered her spiced tea and showed her stacks of rugs made from a vertical loom that church volunteers had donated to them.  Despite the language barrier, they communicated that they hoped to find sustainable jobs in Grand Rapids. After seeing their colorful handmade rugs, Ennis brainstormed ways the family could turn their craft into entrepreneurship.

Ennis, her co-workers and the Powdyel family started by organizing a craft sale at Ennis's home to showcase their work.

The craft sale was a success, and shortly after, they established Rhododendron Crafts, which is named after the national flower of Nepal.

"The rhododendron grows in the rocky, mountainous terrain of Nepal,” said Ennis. “It is a symbol of resilience and the refugee journey.”

Rhododendron Crafts empowers artists to create and sell whatever arts and crafts they are skilled at creating, including jewelry, paintings, sculpture and more. The grassroots organization has commissioned 20 refugee artists from Iraq, Burma and Bhutan over the past year.

The Powdyels have been weaving fine threads on a backstrap loom since they learned the craft in a Nepali refugee camp after fleeing Bhutan 18 years ago. When the family arrived in the United States a year and a half ago, volunteers from Thornapple Evangelical Covenant Church and Church of the Servant donated a vertical loom and trained them to weave thicker fabrics into rugs.

Through Rhododendron Crafts, the Powdyels have had the opportunity to engage with the community in new ways, to travel, showcase their rugs to a larger audience at craft sales and sell their work online and at fair trade stores like Global Infusion in Grand Rapids and The Bridge in Holland.  

"Wherever we have been in the area to show our work," said D. B. Powdyel, "we have felt appreciated."

Ennis is always looking for ways to connect the Rhododendron artists with community members.

"Refugees have a lot to contribute to our community," said Ennis. "When I see people recognize that, it's the most rewarding thing for me." 

To that end, Ennis welcomes community members looking to get involved.  Ennis shared that  Rhododendron needs volunteers to host in-home craft sales, lead arts and crafts workshops, and donate arts and crafts supplies. Those interested in additional information about how to volunteer can contact Ennis at [email protected]


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