Manju Rastogi moved to Akron from Northern India in 1976 and after she retired, she created Developing Alternates for Women in New Communities (DAWN) to help women refugees from Bhutan who had been living in Nepal but were being displaced because of the earthquake.

Since 2008 over 100,000 refugees have left Bhutan and 2010 some started arriving in Akron. They were given frozen turkeys, which they had never seen and saw their first snow in bare feet. After meeting with some of the refugees, it became clear to her that knowledge is power, education and skill development are vital and there was a need to building self confidence
in the women.

Initially Cathy Parker and Lucy Stacy met at the Cuyahoga Falls Library with 5-6 level one students. Three levels of students were created with the third level able to teach skills to others. The plan was to create a crafts and sewing project using donated cotton fabrics and different makes of donated sewing machines. Professor Archana Mehta from Kent State
University Fashion Design School and Gabi Oberdorfer, Vice President and Treasurer joined the group. The City of Akron provided the Patterson Community Center and training was held twice a month.

Funding and support came from the Knight Foundation, the Hillier Family Foundation, the Bath Volunteers for Service, the Prayer Quilt Ministry of the First Congregational Church of Hudson, Kent State Fashion Design School, Shiva Vishnu Temple in Parma and many Asian Indian groups and the mainstream community.

Cultural differences included the fact that the women were not familiar with self employment and owning a business, learning to sew, attending classes, setting goals and becoming active participants. Support for the students included a Janome sewing machine, scissors, thread, needles, rotary cutter, mats, gloves, fabric and a table. Students sign an agreement to attend class or return their sewing machine.

Students learn to create products like; yoga mat bags, tote bags, shoulder bags, fancy belts, denim aprons, scarves that can be worn as a wrap, scarf or skirt felted soap. Level 1 and 2 students are paid by the piece with a 20 percent bonus at the end of the year. Level 3 students get 70 percent of the sold price and have access to a 10 percent kitty for supplies.

DAWN needs mentors and volunteers to teach sewing or craft skills, cotton fabric and donations. If you’re interested in helping out, you can email Manju Rastogi at Learn more at