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Unique collaboration highlights refugee's talents

"It's her favorite thing to do"
Posted at 6:23 PM, Oct 28, 2020

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — A Buffalo Ballet Company and a sewing shop are teaming together for a social distancing effort.

“A lot of what we do here at Neglia is collaborate and with COVID we haven't been able to do what we normally would like to,” explained Bronwen Battaglia, director of logistics and communications, Neglia Ballet.

As dance students head back to the Neglia Ballet studio's in Buffalo, social distancing remains center stage.

Llama Mask Project at Neglia Ballet studio's at the Tri-Main Building in Buffalo.

Battaglia said she wanted a unique way to remind dance students to remain six feet apart and that's when they created the Llama Mask Project.

“And I just happen to find out that llamas are six feet long and we love llamas here. Battaglia explained.

At the same time she ran into Joann Tomasulo who was wearing an embroidered mask.

Tomasulo is a board member at Stitch Buffaloon Niagara Street. That's where she discovered the hand-stitched masks.

Llama masks created at Stitch Buffalo.

“One day I walk in here and there's these embroidered masks — this one in particular and so I had to get it,” Tomasulo remarked.

At Stitch Buffalo — refugee women are encouraged to use their beautiful sewing talents to create hand-crafted items at a fair wage

Refugee women from all over the world attend workshops at Stitch Buffalo and receive a percentage of the sales of products at the shop.

Many items created at Stitch Buffalo.

“Different women from all over the world, who are refugees come here and bring their artistic craft ability to different products,” Tomasulo said.

Hkwang Lung is Burmese. She's making the special llama masks being sold by both Stitch Buffalo and Neglia to share in the profits for their organizations.

“It’s just really a nice project to work together with another great organization,” Battaglia noted.

Hkwang speaks very little English, so her granddaughter served as an interpreter by phone.

7 Eyewitness News asked why she's at Stitch Buffalo.

“Because she is skilled at sewing and she found the store — because it's her favorite thing to do,” replied Lung through her granddaughter.

Hkwang Lung making the special llama masks.

Hkwang came to Buffalo nearly six years ago with her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter for a better life in America.

“It’s quite different — from her country and here,” the granddaughter explained.

Hkwang said there is nothing like Stitch Buffalo in Burmese.

“And life is much, much better here — for all of you?” Buckley asked.

Hkwang Lung making the special llama masks.

“Yes, a lot better,” the granddaughter responded for her grandmother.

And now she's truly “Buffalo Strong” — one 'stitch at a time’.

The Llama Project masks can be purchased for $25. You can click this link for more information.