Diarna Handicrafts Fair hosted UNHCR as a guest of honor to give refugee artisans the opportunity to display their products.
Roasting coffee beans over low heat, the smoky smell of Terhas’ coffee hangs in the air at Diarna Fair for Handicrafts, leading visitors to her small booth at the entrance. Dressed in her traditional Eritrean white dress, she welcomes visitors with a cup of coffee made of her very own mix.
Although Terhas had to flee Eritrea, she still carries what remains of the memory of her homeland everywhere. She seizes every opportunity to show off her traditional dress and prepares coffee the traditional way to share it with intrigued customers.
To provide for her children in Egypt, she cooks Eritrean meals and sells them. This is her only source of income after she fled harsh conditions in her home country and was forced to seek refuge/asylum.
Sitting a few steps away from Terhas is Anmar, a multi-talented Syrian refugee artist and graphic designer. Among Anmar’s many talents is dealing with children. In his spare time, Anmar dedicates his efforts to teach them origami, and in just a few precise steps, children can make their dream planes or boats come true.
“Through origami, we can shape paper, wood, and various materials, which helps expand the child’s perception and broaden his horizons constructively,” Anmar said, explaining the benefits of origami and the reason behind his passion for organizing workshops to teach children the basics of this art in a fun and joyful atmosphere.
Touring the aisles of the fair, we were amazed by the artisanal work displayed at the exhibition by more than 300 participants representing different Egyptian governorates. Nestled among this colourful patchwork of fine craftsmanship were refugee-made products representing a blend of different nationalities.
Diarna exhibition is held under the slogan “Egypt Speaks Artisanally”, under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Solidarity and in partnership with “Ebda3 men Masr”, an initiative by Alex Bank, the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, and WE Telecom Egypt. The exhibition ran from February 15 to February 27 at Cairo Festival City.
This year, the exhibition hosted UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, as a guest of honor to give refugee artisans the opportunity to display products that narrate personal experiences fueled with hope.
“When I came to Egypt in 2013, I had to learn a profession to make ends meet, so I went for wood and metal works,” said Muhammad al-Najjar, a 58-year-old Syrian refugee whose work was displayed at Diarna. “The fair is a window through which I can show my work to handicraft lovers and the whole world,” he added.
Also present among the exhibitors is Samah, a Syrian refugee who has lived in Cairo since she fled the war in Syria in 2012. She stacks her natural bar soaps on a display table, which she makes using ingredients like lavender, honey and oats. Her products tackle different skin problems and cater to many tastes.
“I would like to thank Egypt for hosting and embracing the Syrians,” she said. “I also thank the people behind Diarna exhibition for allowing us to tap into new markets, especially in the time of Coronavirus.”
This exhibition is the second collaboration between UNHCR and Ebda3 men Masr after the Stars in the Sky Initiative which was launched at El Gouna Film Festival last October.
As of January 2021, Egypt hosted more than 259,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 58 different nationalities, 50 percent of whom are from Syria. Next comes Sudan, then South Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, and Ethiopia.
After fleeing war or persecution, the opportunity to work and earn a living is one of the hardest challenges refugees face. Through work, refugees can rebuild their lives with dignity and in peace. UNHCR helps refugees and asylum-seekers to support themselves and their families by offering them training and assisting them in finding a market for their skills and goods.
In the coming weeks, UNHCR is preparing to launch the “Beyond the Borders” initiative, a project initiated by Refuge Egypt, UNHCR’s partner, to support refugee handicraft owners by marketing their products electronically through the online store Brandluca.
You can visit the Beyond Borders page through this link.