Islamabad: Vibrant and bold jewellery made of ceramic beads, fabric, metal and stones at the fashion show “Craft Stories” in Karachi may be just jewellery for spectators. But for those refugee artisans who crafted them, it was a life-changing experience.
“I feel like I am making a difference, like I have finally found my purpose [in life],” shared Shareefa, an Afghan refugee and mother of four, who is now working as an artisan for six months now. She is one of the 25 craftswomen involved in the project – a joint initiative of designer Huma Adnan and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The programme includes refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Myanmar, Yemen as well as Rohingya people.
Considering the need for work opportunities among the refugee population in Pakistan, designer brand FnkAsia and UNHCR offered vocational training to them in jewellery and textile craft to help them become self-sustained entrepreneurs.
Explaining the purpose behind the venture, Adnan told Gulf News: “It aims to create awareness among masses about global refugee crisis and to highlight the issues faced by refugees in terms of citizenship, dignity, acceptance into a culture and community building.”
The fashion industry can help create awareness and provide long-term sustainability solutions for them, the designer believes. The jewellery-making skill women refugees have acquired is “a passport to come out of the vicious circle of poverty” she asserted.
The jewellery line that has exquisitely combined traditional elements with trendy designs is the prefect depiction of refugees from different countries working together for a bright future. “The handcrafted jewellery by the refugees is an expression of their personal journey. Each piece is crafted with the resilience and passion of a heart-warming tale with the perfect balance of quality and design” Huma believes.
The selected group of women received training and imported high-quality materials at refugee camps in Karachi’s Al-Asif Square – the home of Afghan refugees for years. From choosing colours, designs, threads, and motifs to crafting techniques, Adnan’s team would first create a prototype and would then hand over the task to them. Explaining the tedious process of making a single piece, Shareefa said, “It used to take an entire day to make an earring when I first started. But now I can now make multiple pairs in a single day.”
In fact, she showed such swift improvement that she soon earned her the title of supervisor. “I feel really happy and proud of the work I am doing now,” she said.
Shareefa, 40, who belongs to Kandahar, Afghanistan, has been living in Karachi for the last 16 years in Sohrab Goth, Karachi. For her, the happiest time of the day is when refugee women gather in the morning for handcrafting activity. But their biggest achievement was when their handcrafted bangles, earrings and necklaces were showcased at the fashion show recently held in Karachi. Their faces gleamed with joy when they received huge applause for their work at the same stage where top models and actresses graced the ramp, wearing jewellery made by them.
The six-month project was supported by UNHCR, which provided training, materials and machinery in collaboration with designer Adnan to create livelihood opportunities for refugees to lead a dignified life. “This project will have a great impact on the lives of refugees. It will not only help make refugees self-reliant in Pakistan, but it will also improve their future economic prospects upon return to Afghanistan” said Ruvendrini Menikdiwela, the UNHCR representative in Pakistan.
Pakistan continues to host 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. Most of them reside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan but some 63,000 are residing in Sindh, mostly in Karachi city.