Refugee Artisans Rebuild Their Lives

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SEATTLE, Washington — Refugees flee their homelands for any number of reasons and face a new life without hope or resources. With no traditional way of earning an income in the first few months in a new country, the solutions typically include either depending on charitable programs or risk returning home. However, MADE51 is helping many savvy refugee-artisans rebuild their lives by making and selling handmade products.

The MADE51 Project

The main reasons refugees flee their countries are persecution, war and threats of natural disasters.  Refugees are sometimes persecuted because of their beliefs, political opinions, nationalities and sexualities among other reasons. The United Nations has acknowledged June 20 as World Refugee Day. In 2018, there were already 65.6 million people who had fled their homelands. Of that figure, 22.5 million were refugees living in other countries.

The MADE51 project values the heritage of refugees forced out of their countries due to persecution and war. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) established the project in 2018. The agency provides refugee-artisans protection while rebuilding their lives. The products are sold worldwide and are connected to international designers and local social enterprises. The refugees come from countries like Syria, Burundi, Afghanistan and Myanmar among others.

Change Makers

Sasibi Kimis is a socio-entrepreneur and the founder of Earth Heir, a pilot of Made51. She is among the list of changemakers helping refugee-artisans rebuild their lives. She became passionate about helping those most in need when she learned that someone close to her faced horrible conditions. Her pursuit of understanding poverty led her to funnel the knowledge she gained by turning the reality of poverty into actionable and tangible efforts.

Sasibi traveled to underdeveloped countries where she would purchase refugee-made products and sell them to her friends back home. Her intentions sparked the solution she long desired. She saw refugee artisans rebuild their lives. They could now begin to earn a living off the products they created, infused with family traditions and techniques.

Ambiente Trade Show

For the first time in 2018, refugee artisans were able to display their Made51 items at Ambiente. It is the leading international consumer goods trade show in Frankfurt, Germany. Among the countries showcasing their products were Afghanistan, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. The products on display varied from bowls, jewelry, cashmere throws, scarves, complex pile rugs, embroidered bags and much more. The sale of each piece of item is paid to the artisans at market price. They are able to make a living and have a sense of self-reliance knowing they are contributing to their livelihood and to the livelihood of their family.

People can continue to help refugee artisans rebuild their lives. Each person has a role to play as a consumer and retailer. People can often create change in their buying habits. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi shares that each piece of a refugee-made product has a story of history and culture. They offer something beautiful to the eye, but also to the soul. They are manifested out of war and turmoil.

– Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

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