Give Work, Not Aid: Threads of Syria

By Hanna Pumfrey

*** This is not a sponsored article; the current refugee crisis is a topic close to my heart. I work with a UK based refugee support charity as a volunteer helping refugees in London, so I look to share the story of any organisation doing wonderful work in this area wherever I can. All words and opinions are my own, no editorial guidance was received ***

It started with thousands of people on the streets. It has resulted in millions of people on the move. Syria’s civil war has generated an unprecedented refugee crisis, with over 5 million people fleeing the country and many still living homeless in Syria itself. It is one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time.

Every day, Syrian people are leaving their country, using any method they can to flee, in search of a better life. However, their struggle doesn’t end, as many of you know, once they cross the border. Most refugees end up in camps, somewhere on the road to Europe, that struggle to meet their basic needs. It is a desperate situation with many living in severely impoverished circumstances with no end in sight.

And, despite, dollar upon dollar of western aid pouring into the camps through the charities many of us in the UK support, the situation is not improving. Why? Aid does not tackle the root cause. One woman, and a huge role model of mine, who is championing a different approach is social entrepreneur, and author of ‘Give Work: reversing poverty one job at a time’,  Leila Janah. Leila believes, and I wholeheartedly agree, that social enterprises are key to eradicating global poverty. With global poverty at the root of many the world’s social issues we can work to alleviate poverty by giving those affected steady work at fair wages, rather than relying on charitable aid.

Nya Pendant necklace

I recently discovered Artisan & Fox, a social enterprise, who are putting the Give Work, Not Aid manifesto into action every day. Artisan & Fox is an online marketplace that collaborates with ethical and responsible individual artisans and other social enterprises to bring you gorgeous accessories like this stunning necklace made by Ojiko, a Kenyan artisan, from upcycled brass. The newest and most treasured edition to my wardrobe, thanks Artisan & Fox!

For me, what really differentiates Artisan & Fox from others is their dedication to providing these artisans with the means to provide for themselves. Profits go directly to their artisan partners, helping them to reinvest and scale their businesses; directly helping both the local economy and the artisan’s family.

Credit: Threads of Syria

Credit: Threads of Syria

One particular initiative of theirs though that has really pulled at my heart strings is their Thread’s of Syria’ project that works with Syrian women refugees living in the Chatila refugee camp in Lebanon. The projects aim is to provide sustainable livelihoods for the Syrian women refugees and their families through the sale of beautiful hand-knitted Syrian scarves. Each scarf is knitted in the colours of the Syrian flag, in red or green, and as a nod to Syrian culture. Each scarf also features a beautiful Syrian embroidery patch. All profits generated go directly to the refugees and their communities.

What led Artisan & Fox to start this project? In collaboration with not-for-profit Tight-Knit Syria, they carried out research in the camps to assess social need as well as the skills of the people there to find real solutions. They found that, on average, each Syrian woman refugee has on average 17 years of experience in traditional needlework; wonderful embroidery skills that are culturally distinctive to Syria. The use of the women’s skills to create these beautiful scarves offers sustainable incomes for refugee women and families, and helps alleviate the refugee crisis.

Credit: Threads of Syria

Credit: Threads of Syria

Courtesy of Artisan and Fox, I want to share the story of Ayush, a 29-year-old Syrian from the city of Idlib. Ayush had just started her first year of law school when the Syrian war forced her to flee to Lebanon. She has lived in Shatila camp for the last five years with her husband and three young sons, aged 6, 4 and 2. Ayush’s youngest son suffers from epilepsy and needs expensive medication, leaving Ayush and her family in desperate need of an extra income. As the primary caregiver for her son though, she is unable to take a conventional job. Through Threads of Syria, Ayush can make money from home using the needlework skills she learned from her grandmother as a teenager. The project has given Ayush a chance to provide for her family as well as a community amongst the other needle workers.

Through the project the women are provided with a sustainable future.  The Threads of Syria brand is not owned by Artisan & Fox or Tight-Knit Syria; all marketing content belongs to, and will be gifted to the refugees once they can formally register their co-operative. For me, this is social enterprise at its best and a wonderful example of how the Give Work, Not Aid manifesto can be realised.

To discover more and support the initiative visit Artisan & fox’s site. Stay tuned for a giveaway coming up on F + C later this week that will give you the opportunity to win a Threads of Syria scarf and help to spread this wonderful imitative yourself.

For a first-hand account of life working in Greek refugee camps check out the latest edition of One Aware magazine. In their article ‘A father, a little girl and a boy older than me: stories from Lesvos’, Joely Fashokun shares her experience as a researcher into the effects of refugee camp life on children and how we can support them.