Social enterprises play a crucial role in assisting refugee artisans to create crafts for sale.
THEY fled their homes to escape persecution, war and genocide. Unfortunately, their struggles do not end as they continue to face challenges.
However, there are various local nongovernmental organisations and individuals that have come to their rescue. They are assisting the refugees to create and market hand made accessories and crafts to become self-sufficient. They are also setting-up schools to ensure refugee children receive the education and skills they need.
Fugee School co-founder Deborah Henry has launched the first collection of Fugeelah, the school’s accessories line.
With the help from homegrown brands — Frankitas Design and The Batik Boutique — the collection features print motifs inspired by the students’ various cultures and life journeys.
The students are involved in all parts of learning about craftmanship, detailing and quality control.
Fugee School was set up in 2009 for refugee children and adolescents. Currently it has 160 students from Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Palestine.
Henry says Fugeelah is “a brand with a conscience” and it creates a bridge that connects the need to care from our community to the need to be cared for by the refugee community.
“It is not acceptable that children don’t have access to an education. Refugee children have so much potential.
“Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine losing everything, Not being able to work or go to school and being desperate for help. That is the life of refugees and that is why we have to help them. I’ve always believed that it takes a village to raise a child, and the world to raise children,”
Realising the need to not just educate and provide shelter for communities seeking refuge in this country, Deborah also sought the help of like-minded individuals to partner with the brand.
Fugeelah will eventually be the source of income for the school, which needs RM25,000 a month to keep it running. The collection is available at Fugeelah Instagram and Frankitas Facebook. Frankitas is also sharing its global distribution network to sell the collection.
Fugeelah is one of many brands that is helping refugees. The following are other groups who are providing livelihood support to refugees through various projects.
Founded in 2013 by Sasibai Kimis, its mission is to increase the value of craftsmanship by engaging in ethical partnerships and advocating conscious consumption.
It works hand-in-hand with artisans to create a collection of exquisitely handcrafted pieces. Each piece is modern, beautiful, and carries a human story of master artisans and their heritage.
It has worked with refugees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine. It has also worked with individuals directly and also via refugee groups and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Most refugees are hungry for work. They want to be productive, earn an income and support their families, just like us. Discard the aid mentality, but rather help them stand on their own two feet.
The products include backpacks, dresses, tops, clutches, pouches, cross-stitch, baby carriers, sleeping bags and jewellery.
Earth Heir has worked with them on corporate gift orders for Malaysian companies, and it hopes more companies and individuals will engage with refugee artisans.
It is working with UNHCR on a project, MADE51, to help two refugee groups make products which hopefully can be marketed globally, and help them earn a more sustainable income.
Artisans are paid per hour, per day or per product depending on the item. The rates are such that they can earn the minimum wage in Malaysia or more.
Tanma was created in 2007 comprising five groups of refugee women. The federation is run by women for women.
The members are from the Chin, Mon, Karen and Kachin states in Myanmar. They are often isolated and at risk and through this group, they share resources to improve their selling opportunities and develop new skills.
It is crucial to support them because they do not have access to education, healthcare or safe jobs. By developing their handicraft products, they stay away from 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs.
Tanma groups produce a wide range of products, mainly accessories such as clutches, bags and kitchen accessories. They also make soaps and coconut oil. Depending on the month and groups, they earn between RM200 and RM800 monthly.
Products are on sale at a showroom in Pudu and bazaars. Details are on Facebook and Instagram.
THE ELHAM LIVELIHOOD PROJECT
The Elham Livelihood Project is a project by the non-governmental organisation Malaysian Social Research Institute. Previously named Cinta, it was set up in 2011 and has over 200 registered women who meet every week.
Refugees from countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan) and North Africa (Yemen, Somalia).
They have to rely on informal work such as producing handicraft to support their families. The money they generate from selling handicraft helps sustain the livelihood of their families, with basic medical needs and education for their children.
The refugees and asylum-seekers can develop their skills, learn new skills and generate income. The project has helped empower refugees as self-reliant agents of their long-term development.
They make products based on the skills they possess, as some of them worked as professional artisans in their own countries. They also receive vocational training in sewing, crochet and jewellery making organised by the institute.
The artisans get paid between RM10 and RM25 for a product.
Products made by the artisan refugees are sold at charity bazaars and embassies. Sometimes local enterprises collaborate with the artisans to help produce products for them that are either sold on their online stores or at their brick and mortar shops.
SZE WOMEN OF HOPE
Started by fashion designer Pearly Wong, who saw the need to give back to the community through artisanal skills. Began in March 2017, and works with UNHCR Malaysia to collaborate with refugees on product development.
The refugees are from Mon, Kachin, Chin and Karen states in Myanmar; Afghanistan; Middle Eastern refugees from Elham under the Safe from Start programme with UNHCR; and Pakistani refugees from Lady Ayaz.
The need to give back to the community through artisanal crafts since Pearly Wong is a fashion label. Sze Women of Hope engages refugees to make clothes and helps them produce products that are marketable.
The products range from clothes to accessories like purses, pouches, clutches, earrings and basketry. Different refugee communities have different sets of skills.
Sze Women of Hope pays the refugees fair trade wages per hour, and trains them for months before it allows them to make the products. It also sells products on its website. It is the first full-fledged online e-commerce store in Malaysia that sells all things made by refugees.
Sells products at www.szewomenofhope.com, the UNHCR Malaysia office, its showroom in Pudu and artisan markets and bazaars in KL.
Crafugees started out as a project by a group of students under the Youth Leadership Academy. Upon completion of the project, Crafugees continue to help the refugees. Together with Maker’s Habitat, a sewing and craft studio, Crafugees became an official social enterprise.
It works with HOPE and Lady Ayaz, which both consist of Pakistani refugees. It provides training in creative skills such as sewing, and product design such as pattern-making for the items that they make and sell.
The refugees create a variety of products and these are promoted through social media and the website, crafugeesofficial.wixsite.com. The products are also sold at bazaars.
Refugees are people with knowledge and are skilled, hardworking and will have a bright future if they are given the chance to rebuild their lives.
They are just like us, people who are trying their best to provide a good life for their loved ones.
Some of the products they make include bean bags, fabric baskets, toiletries bags and clutches, unique fabric door stoppers, Christmas ornamental balls and fabric key chains.
For the time being, all proceeds go back to the respective communities. Some products require teamwork so the money is distributed among the members.
Currently, their latest products are found at bazaars which are announced on Facebook and Instagram pages. They hope to make their products available for online purchases as well.