Creative Parenting: “Poverty as Creative Catalyst,” by Khadijah Lacina

Khadijah Lacina is a regular guest columnist for Riehlife. Her previous post was “Creative Parenting: My Head Is Full of Poems.” This post is number two in the series. We met through Story Circle Network.

In her series of articles, Khadijah shares how she stays sane by encouraging and nurturing creativity in herself and her children. Read about her life in Yemen at her blog Yemeni Journey. In this post she tells about so many things dear to my heart. In my life, it’s been the handmade presents made from everyday materials that have meant the most to me. We don’t need to commodify crafts or creativity.

Khadijah is a transplant from Wisconsin’s Kickapoo Valley. She’s lived in Yemen for almost nine years with her husband and eight children.



Poverty as Creative Catalyst
by Khadijah Lacina

Every time I go on the internet, I am bombarded with images of things I “need” to have to enhance my creativity, to find the artist within…exotic yarns, expensive fabrics, little doo-dads and widgets and what-not that are necessary in order to make every project perfect. Quilt patterns calling for specific fabric from specific companies. Crochet patterns that rely on $20.00 a skein yarn. Crafts for children that require all sorts of specific paints and materials.

I couldn’t afford these things in the States, and I can’t afford them here in Yemen- even if they were available.

So what do people who don’t have stellar craft budgets do?

Here’s an example. A few days ago the children decided to make some paper chains to decorate the house for the upcoming Eid celebration. You know, the ones you made in school out of construction paper and white glue. Thing is, I have yet to even see construction paper in Yemen, and if I did find it, I doubt if such a luxury item would fit into our budget. Sukhailah told me what they wanted to do, and why they couldn’t do it.

“Why not make your own colored paper?” I asked. She immediately understood, and the children spent an hour or so on the floor with old waxy crayons, coloring both sides of white printer paper. They even mixed colors and made “variegated” as Mu’aadh said. Then they cut out their strips, and made their beautiful multi-colored paper chains to hang up in every room.

Another example. A friend left us a bunch of quilting magazines when she moved to Egypt. At first, paging through them, the girls became disheartened, as they saw the intricate patterns calling for very specific cloth and colors to make them work. All we have is a motley collection of fabrics given to us over the last few years- certainly nothing that was meant to go together like the patterns in these magazines called for.

I hauled the bag out, though, and told them to pick out a pattern that they liked. I picked one out as well. Then we sorted through the different sizes and colors of cloth, until we came up with our own color schemes. Then we altered the patterns to fit what we had on hand.

The results are very satisfying, thank you. As we did it, I told them that this was the heart of quilting before it became an “art” form- and in a way, it took a lot more work doing it our way than just getting a pattern and heading off to the fabric store.

And so it goes on. We make gifts for each other out of whatever we have on hand–dolls for the girls, a cardboard box dresser for doll clothes, brightly colored rayon fabric for draw string bags, an old drink jar decorated to make a pencil holder, coloring books drawn by hand and photocopied…the list goes on.

And, as with their multi-hued paper chains, the end results are incredibly, undeniably, totally without compromise, ours. And that’s what makes it all worth it!

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  1. Wa Aleikum Assalam
    I’m so glad you enjoyed it! If anyone had any suggestions, ideas or experiences with this, please share them with the rest of us!

  2. This post reminds me of the gifts we made when I was a child. My mother made sure that we could embroider, crochet, knit, and sew. We were well-bred young Victorian ladies… And, we also knew how to drive a tractor!

    Janet Riehl

  3. Janet- I taught my eldest son to crochet. He showed a marked talent for detangling skeins of yarn as well! When I was sick with typhoid, he would sit in my room with me and crochet- he made me a bag that I still have.

  4. Typhoid! Wow.

    Your children are such good people. Yes, having someone just in the room when we are sick can be so comforting. A friend and I did that in Ghana when she was ill. We lap quilted together.

  5. Hi Dani, thanks for stopping by. Janet has certainly got a global perspective going too, you can spend hours lost here, just clicking and reading!

  6. Dear Khadijah, I am finding out that poverty is truly a creative catalyst in so many areas of our lives. I don’t want to even begin to compare poverty in the US to any where else in the world; however, I am learning how uncreative I have become. Now in my present circumstances, I have been making some incredibly creative and very satisfying decisions…to the point of being truly grateful for where I am right now in my life. As always, you are an inspiration to me!!! Thurayah

  7. Thurayah,

    When one has the imagination and skills, poverty becomes a challenge and less of a burden. In my parent’s generation it was called “making do.”

    When I lived in Africa in the 1970s, I was amazed time and time again at the ingenuity brought to bear to put limited resources to good use. I watched in awe at the Masters of Simplicity.


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