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Sewing Hope: From Fields to Fashion

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