Zaman International’s BOOST team brings a global vision of home to a public reading of Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’

From left: Gigi Salka, BOOST’s director, and Raghida Abraham, BOOST’s lead sewing teacher in the sewing room at Zaman International’s headquartersl in southeast Michigan.


EDITOR’S NOTESince the 1990s, Zaman International‘s founder Najah Bazzy, a transcultural nurse specialist, has been working to help at-risk women and their children in southeast Michigan and around the world. In 2004, Zaman became an official non-profit NGO committed to addressing basic needs and empowering marginalized women and children through relief and development programs. In 2007, Zaman launched BOOST (Building Ongoing Opportunities through Skills Training), a program designed to offer women the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by learning job-ready skills in sewing and culinary arts as well as developing their English-language literacy. One of Najah Bazzy’s inspiring true stories forms the final chapter of the new edition of Friendship & Faith. Stay tuned to our online magazine and you will find more news later this year about this amazing woman and her work around the world. This week, we invited Zaman’s Lori Rhode, a veteran quilt maker, to write about one of the colorful BOOST projects.



When the Dearborn Public Library announced a “Big Read” of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Namesake, the goal was to bring an entire community together around this popular story of an immigrant family’s adjustment to America. That meshed artfully with the goal of Zaman International’s BOOST program, which includes developing skills in sewing and fabric arts.

Our quilters challenged themselves to piece together:

  • Their creative fiber-arts skills
  • A novel whose central theme is the immigrant experience
  • And, a library event that could become the outer framing of this project.

How did this all come together?

“Jihan Jawad, a member of the Dearborn Library Commission, one of the Big Read partners, knew we have a sewing program at Zaman and the idea was born to commission a quilt to become a part of the city’s event,” said Gigi Salka, BOOST Director. The Big Read quilt is the second quilt commission for BOOST.

The BOOST sewing program is in its second year. Salka said people are familiar with Zaman’s many efforts in the community. Now, awareness of the sewing entrepreneurship program, and the small business opportunities that result, is growing.

“We are getting more calls asking if our students can be hired to do alterations and commissions,” Salka said.

Students come to the sewing program from the beginner level to more advanced skills. Quilting, a beloved American tradition, which experienced a revival after the bicentennial, is a lesser known skill among our participants. Salka and Raghida Abraham, BOOST’s lead sewing teacher, realized this could be another valuable skill for our students. A group of BOOST volunteer sewing assistants—with years of quilting experience between us—are helping to teach the students.

Abraham is an accomplished seamstress, who multi-tasks in the sewing center teaching, drafting patterns for the lessons, and evaluating the quality of the items the students sew. But, she didn’t have a lot of experience with quilting. Since the BOOST program began, volunteers have brought a wealth of skills, from tutoring students in English, to a variety of sewing skills, and to marketing and business development.

Coming up with an idea for the quilt was a challenge, Abraham said. “We greatly appreciate the experience and skills of our volunteers.”

One of the volunteers suggested a house block quilt. One classic quilt square is a school house block. The idea grew as Abraham surfed the internet looking at the variety of houses and homes from different parts of the world. Abraham had an approximate idea of the size of the finished quilt.

Next, Abraham and four volunteers—Pat Robertson, Mary Dahlke, Kathryn Rodorigo and myself—sewed nine house quilt blocks. Some of the house blocks represent the ancestries of their makers. One of the houses sewn by Abraham represents her family’s home in Lebanon. The Japanese house block is reminiscent of another volunteer’s stint teaching English in Japan.

“I chose to do a farmhouse block because it was a good representation of rural America. While I didn’t grow up on a farm, the house and barn seemed to capture a special American time and place amidst the other houses from around the world,” said Robertson. “It was fun to make the square and be a small part of this project.”

“A lot of creativity was sewn into these blocks,” said Abraham.

While some students have worked on quilting projects, the primary day-to-day efforts in our BOOST sewing program are projects of a more modest scope—such as purses, tote bags and aprons. That’s because these smaller items are faster to produce and sell well at local fairs and markets.

Now, though, all of us at Zaman are proud to see this quilt become a part of Dearborn’s Big Read. The month-long program includes various events to promote community-wide reading and discussion of The Namesake.

“This Big Read represents a team effort of many organizations in partnership in the Dearborn community,” said Henry Fischer DPL Librarian. A diverse committee of community leaders participated in this book selection. They felt it was a great choice to celebrate the diversity of our community, the immigrant experience, and it is a story which appeals to many groups, Fischer said.

In keeping with the Big Read’s overarching theme of community involvement—library patrons will be able to create a small part of quilt on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, from 6-8 p.m., by assembling their own name blocks. These fabric squares will be used in an outer border for the quilt. Participants in the quilt event will attach small pieces of fabric to a base by ironing them to a fusible fabric and adding their signatures. These name blocks will frame the house blocks.

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Our nine quilt squares, awaiting the final outer border of participants’ names that will be added this week through the Dearborn library’s Big Read program.


LORI RHODE is a volunteer sewing assistant at Zaman International. Lori was first attracted to quilting in 1979 by the beauty and the resourcefulness of the quilt makers she met. Lori makes quilts for her family, but the number of quilts she has made for charities is greater than those kept. She is a member of the Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild and the Farmington Community Library Quilters. Lori serves on the diaconate of North Congregational Church where she has been a member since 1996.

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  1. Gail says

    Beautiful work and an outstanding article. Super job on both ends. We love the work Zaman International is doing and look forward to spreading awareness of our efforts to the community. Much appreciated, Lori.