A selected number of skilled refugees and asylum-seekers displayed the handicrafts that connect them with the cultures of their countries of origin at the Diarna Exhbition for the second year in a row.
For the second year in a row, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is taking you on a cross-border journey to showcase the different cultures and authentic handicrafts that flourish on Egyptian lands at the Diarna Exhbition running from 24 February – 7 March in Cairo.
At the exhibition, a selected number of skilled refugees and asylum-seekers will display the handicrafts that connect them with the cultures of their countries of origin, providing them with a source of livelihood in Egypt after they sought refuge in it due to the wars, conflicts and persecution that forced them to flee in search of safety and international protection.
“My grandmother taught me simple handicrafts when I was four years old. One day she gave me her macrame tools and asked me to take of them. Since then, I have loved macrame because it reminds me of her and of Syria,” says Laila, a 54-year-old, who left Syria because of the war that broke up her little family. Laila has two sons, who have been detained since the beginning of the war, in 2011. They were arrested on the way to university and she has lost contact with them since then.
Laila did not leave Syria for years hoping to see her sons again. However, her situation in Syria turned upside down and she was forced to flee to Egypt to survive. Laila lives in a small house in Alexandria in Egypt, which she chose specifically to remind her of her home in Syria.
Laila says, “Macrame is a memory from Syria that I still hold dear to me. I nurtured this skill in my family’s spacious house surrounded by the warmth of my family and community, and the sound of waterfalls. But here we live in a small house. Whenever I work with macrame, I remember my beautiful home back in Syria.”
Laila trains Egyptian and refugee women on different handicrafts, and also trains young children to make decorative pieces for their homes from plastic, paper and recycled materials. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laila marketed her macrame work to meet her basic needs. She sells accessories, curtains, and other decorative forms of macrame.
This year, Laila along with 25 other refugees and asylum-seekers coming mainly from Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Iraq, are participating in the exhibition that is held at Cairo Festival City Mall for two weeks.
Awadia, a 45-year-old Sudanese refugee, is participating in Diarna for the first time this year. Awadia came to Cairo in 2005 after life in Sudan became dangerous for her and her three children due to the ongoing conflict. She was forced to seek refuge and safety in Egypt, in the hope of a stable future for her children. Awadia is displaying her handmade leather and crocheted products at the exhibition.
“I have always been in love with handmade products; I appreciated the craft and the skill behind them and three years ago, I decided to learn crochet and leather craft. They are now a source of income for me and my family,” Awadia says about why she learned this craft, specifically. She makes handbags, medals, and various accessories from leather. She adds, “I am happy to participate in the Diarna exhibition. Exhibitions are the only opportunity for my products to be displayed and sold, because I do not have a shop of my own.”
Rana arrived in Egypt with her three children, after they fled the war in Syria, in 2013. In 2019, a member of her family was diagnosed with cancer. That ordeal was the beginning of her project, where she thought of producing chemical-free soap made of natural materials, to preserve human health. “I wanted to help people with health and skin problems through my products that are made of natural oils and herbal extracts,” Rana says, explaining how her project started. She sees the Diarna exhibition as an opportunity for her to open new doors to the Egyptian market.
Diarna is organized every year by the Ministry of Social Solidarity in partnership with the “Ebdaa Men Masr” initiative from the Alex Bank and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, one of UNHCR’s key partner foundations in Egypt.
The UNHCR global initiative MADE51 is also participating in Diarna by displaying products made by refugees of different nationalities. This global initiative is an opportunity to connect refugees with handicrafts to local partners to create a variety opportunities to market refugee products and provide access to local and global markets.