As refugee crisis grows, women turn to artisanal skills for a chance to rebuild their lives

In News by MIIC

Refugees around the world are being trained to make pins for The Pin Project in workshops like this one in Amman, Jordan. Nadia Bseiso

When Ahmad, Muna and their four small children arrived at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing Homs, Syria, under gunfire in 2013, Muna wept at the sight of the sprawling yet crowded community of makeshift tents.

“When I saw the camp, my heart ached,” Muna says. The family spent 11 days in Zaatari before a relative found them a two-room apartment up a set of crumbling stairs in a back alley on the edge of Amman.

Since arriving in Jordan, Ahmad and Muna have relied on monthly cash assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to pay their rent and feed their family. Muna says that while she’s grateful, she’d rather be working.

“My husband is ill and we couldn’t survive without this help. But I would like to earn money.”

It’s for women like Muna that Hedvig Alexander launched the Pin Project, a new campaign that will give refugees in seven countries job skills, income and independence.

The founder of Far & Wide Collective, a Toronto-based business that sells locally sourced fair-trade goods from the developing world, believes we’ve approached the refugee crisis all wrong, focusing too much on providing humanitarian aid and not enough on thinking creatively about long-term solutions. Giving people a means of employment should be paramount, she says, rather than forcing them to rely on handouts indefinitely. “If you’re not connected to the global economy, you don’t have a chance – and neither do your children.”

She enlisted the help of Canadian jewellery designer Jenny Bird to design a pin that refugees are already being trained to make. The kite-shaped pins cost between $4 and $10 (U.S.) to produce and will be presold globally on Kickstarter for $25, starting Nov. 15, with all the proceeds going to the refugees.

“My vision is to connect the goodwill of people leading countable lives with this vast, anonymous population that often gets forgotten,” Ms. Alexander says. “I thought that a visible symbol of hope, something beautiful and well-designed, might be the way to get people interested, while also making it easy for them to make a difference.”

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