The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a storied history of humanitarian work in Europe. This particular refugee assistance effort, however, evolved over two decades. Even at a very young age, Barbara Spezini had a dream. She dreamt of a world where battered and abused women fleeing their oppressors could find solace, self-respect, and learn life-enhancing skills. But she wasn’t just dreaming; she was doing. In 2003 she began helping women in peril, working as a hospital volunteer assisting young girls from Romania who sought to be free from an unwanted life of prostitution.
Italy welcomed these Romanian refugees, but only for one year so they could become independent citizens. But one year was insufficient to overcome language challenges, trauma from prior abuse, and lack of work skills. “I had to find a way to help these women,” said Barbara. “I believe God sent them to me.”
In 2017, an NGO based in Turin, Italy granted Barbara 10,000 Euros to build a support organization for refugees, particularly mothers with children. She started Articulo 10, an organization to help raise funds to offset housing costs. But there was a need to also teach these refugee women valuable work skills. And so, Colori Vivi was born.
Colori Vivi is a for-profit clothes and accessories manufacturer focused on fashion for women. Headquartered in Turin, Colori Vivi provides tailoring jobs and training for mothers who in turn can better care for themselves and their children. The creativity inherent in fashion design has also been a valued skill for these women who have been instrumental in color and fabric selection. “One new member of our team, named Sadia, inspired a starry night fabric pattern for a particular garment, “added Barbara. “When she was fleeing a prison in Libya, she left in the dark of night with only the starlight to guide her to freedom. Sadia took that traumatic event and turned it into something inspiring and beautiful,” she concluded.
The women who work at Colori Vivi migrate from many regions, including Nigeria, Somalia, and Libya. Most have fled war-torn villages, escaped spousal abuse, or have abandoned a life on the streets. They arrive with little more than determination and hope. Gainful employment and affordable housing make a significant difference in their lives and in the lives of their children. The work culture and mission at Colori Vivi is one of self-empowerment, personal growth, and environmental sustainability. As perfectly expressed by one of the workers named Grace. ‘I’m always asking God that this job in tailoring will bring me to my destination and will let me grow and educate my children’, she says.
Latter-day Saint Charities (LDSC) is a non-profit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDSC has a long and trusted relationship with Barbara Spezini, initiated by philanthropic contributions from former missionary couple Bob & Leslie Gale. “Barbara has made helping other women her life’s work,” commented Kraig Christensen, a Senior Humanitarian & Self Reliance Missionary. “It is a privilege for us to contribute to her good works and support her inspired vision.”
Over the past several years, LDSC has contributed sewing and other specialized tailoring machines for leather and other specialty fabrics. They have also purchased supplies and new fabrics for Colori Vivi most recently. “Barbara is a Christian woman of great faith, and we share many common values with her, “continued Christensen.
In 2021, Colori Vivi anticipates sales of over 70,000 euros. That growth compares to sales of 41,000 euros in 2020, and 27,000 euros in 2019.
Becoming self-sufficient and independent are important goals for the migrant women working at Colori Vivi. To date, 44 families have been provided with employment and/or housing, and over 100 others have received assistance with a specific need. There is a saying in Italy that one needs to drink from his or her own hands and not from the hands of others. “These resilient women want to be able to drink from their own hands,” concluded Barbara. “Colori Vivi is dedicated to helping them achieve that.”