Azraq refugee camp, located in a remote stretch of the eastern Jordanian desert, was built to respond to the steady stream of Syrian refugees who have entered Jordan since 2011. The images of sprawling tent cities should be familiar to anyone who watches the news these days. However, the reality of daily life, year after year, is unimaginable for most of us.
But while many visitors see Azraq as a remote outpost in an inhospitable landscape, for 50,000 Syrians, the camp offers them an escape from the violence and a place they can call home. And, if one looks closely enough and with a bit of imagination, signs of hope and potential are everywhere.
In Azraq, we met three women with a wealth of experience in crochet, yearning to put their skills to use. Back in their villages near Homs, Syria, they were fully immersed in a value chain producing crochet work for the international market. For over 15 years, these three women and 300 others, worked daily from their homes, dedicated to supporting their families through their craft. While each woman worked independently, they came together as a community of artisans to distribute orders, check quality control, manage payments and solve challenges. As a result, 300 women were the main breadwinners in their families – a rarity in Syria.
The Syrian conflict forced 200 of these women to seek refuge in Azraq camp, along with their families. They spoke passionately when describing the pride that came with their crochet work. As one artisan said, “I miss it dearly. Crochet is in our blood. I miss the empowerment that it brought me, and the income it brought my family.” This collection of 200 women have a strong desire to put their skills to use if they only could find a market for their products.
Enter MADE51 and SEP Jordan, a social enterprise dedicated to hand- embroidered accessories that blend premium Middle-Eastern craftsmanship with Italian style. SEP and the women weavers are working together to develop a product line that mixes heritage and modernity – the nest Italian cashmere throws and wraps adorned with crochet appliques reminiscent of their work in Syria. This collection debuted at Ambiente international trade show in February. It is currently available at Harrod’s in London and through their website sepjordan.com. As buyers place orders, SEP will manage production and work closely with the artisans to ensure orders and deadlines are understood.
Despite the difficult challenges faced by Syrian refugees, given the newfound optimism of these Syrian women, patches of blue are starting to break through the grey skies.