The recently opened Hope Factory provides the brave women of the Shariya refugee camp with an alternative profession.
High drama, high risk is certainly an element of the narrative inside our blue gates. But so is the quiet, the stillness and serenity which enable our women to reshape their conversation. They have been set free from the evil captivity of the black flag people, for many however their hijab has been exchanged for the head covering of the potato fields. We want to throw that head covering into the garbage and adorn their head with a crown of beauty.
The women who are the sole survivors of their families, and those widowed with children are the most vulnerable in our refugee society. They have been raped endlessly, had forced abortions, miscarriages, been tortured and starved, but once rescued and given a tent, they need to make their way. There are those who will sit and wait for help to come, which it does not, so the sitting becomes a way of life. There are those who despite the brokenness and exhaustion of their physical bodies, get up and go to work.
$100 / month in the Fields
Work is not an air conditioned office, with an adjacent underground parking lot, Nespresso machine and a wide variety of lunchtime restaurants from which to choose. Work is a one hour drive, each way, being thrown around on the back of a pick up truck. Work is a potato field, or a cucumber field, or a watermelon field or an onion field. Work is a twelve hour day come summer or winter, from 03.00 to 15.00. Such a grueling schedule will deliver the vast reward of around $100 per month.
Every day that our girls who work in the fields and yes we have several, Aziza, Adiba and Sarab, take off to come and study with us, they of course lose money, yet they chose to earn less and to be with us. To embrace normality for a few hours, to feel like a woman again, to position themselves for education and empowerment. A planting for a life outside the potato fields where their mind and soul can be cultivated and their abused bodies, rest.
I have thought often of the ancient Biblical command to leave the edges of the fields unharvested and not to pick up that which was dropped by the harvesters, so that the poor and the stranger in the land would have accessible provision. My question has been “how can we make provision accessible to our women?” How can we bring the field to them. No pick up trucks involved.
A couple of years ago, a few young girls newly released from captivity in Syria came to me and announced their business plan. “Put a few sewing machines in one of your buildings. Hire a teacher for three months. Help us to get out of the fields, all we need is rice and chicken for that three month period so that we can eat something. By the end of that time, we will send the teacher home. We will know how to sew. First we will make clothes and sell them in the camp. Then we will take our clothes to the market in Duhok. Then Erbil. Then you can take them wherever you go and sell them internationally. Made in Shariya Camp. What do you think?”
The Hope Factory is Born
Thus the Hope Factory was born. Which came first? Was it the chicken or the egg? We are still unsure but it is established. A tribute to a tribe of women all rescued from one kind of slavery or another, women who are learning to dream together, to run together, to strategize together and to cover each other’s backs. Women who have one goal, be the heroine, not the victim.
The Hope Factory is the answer to the headscarf worn to protect the women from the intense heat of the summer and the freeze and storms of winter. The Hope Factory is the place where their newfound freedom from ISIS can be actualized. The place where they can acquire honorable provision in the surroundings of the much needed care, respect and dignity. They establish their time schedules. They have air conditioning, a clean bathroom, a well equipped kitchen stacked with food. Quiet music in the background.
“We have all been thrown down so long that nobody ever thought that we would get up again, but we have been long enough trodden down now, we will come up again and now I am here“.
- Sojourner Truth
Minefa, one of our sewing teachers, is 27 years old. She lives in a tent inside the camp. She works in the fields surrounding the village. She is tired, from life and from lack of sleep. Her mother died whilst giving birth to her sister. Five months later, her father remarried in order that there would be someone to raise his five children. The new wife was harsh to them, they were not allowed to use the water to shower. School was forbidden.
“Our clothes were always dirty, we were ashamed of our clothes, but we were not allowed to wash them. I wanted to wash them in the stream but I was so busy with making bread, and food and cleaning the house and then cleaning it again as it was never good enough for her, so I could never get outside and go to the stream. I had friends but I could never meet with them and my clothes were so bad that I was ashamed. I would often think of my mother and how she would place the tub under the shower so that we could bathe for as long as we liked. I have never been to school, but I am smart. Maybe because I never had nice clothes, I dreamed of clothes and I know how to sew. I can see what I want to sew and then it happens. I am now one of the sewing teachers at Springs of Hope Foundation. I am married now and I make sure my children are clean and always have clothes. I am so proud that I am a teacher and that my salary will enable me to stop work in the fields and become strong and independent“.
As for our girls recently rescued from the captivity of ISIS, the opening of The Hope Factory has given them direction and purpose. Some learned to sew whilst in captivity. I suppose somewhere between the torture and deprivation they had access to a sewing machine which held their sanity together.
Since our recent opening which took place very quietly during the period of lockdown, they get out of the minibuses and head directly to sew. It is their therapy and their future. They all have dreams of employment, of opening small stores, of selling their soon to be designer clothes in the camps. The simple sewing machine is the