A woman learns the Aghabani technique during the UNHCR workshop for Lebanese and Syrian refugee women in Tikrit, Northern Lebanon. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
© EU FUNDED PROJECT WITH THE NGO AL MAJMOUA AND ARTISANS DU LIBAN PROVIDING AGHABANI TRAINING TO SYRIAN REFUGEE WOMEN AND LEBANESE. 3 MONTH TRAINING OF 35 X 3HOUR SESSIONS OF 50 WOMEN WHO WILL THEN BE ABLE TO WORK ON THIS CRAFT FOR ARTISAN DU LIBAN AND OTHER SELLERS TO IMPROVE LIVELIHOOD. 50 WOMEN FROM SYRIA AND LEBANON LIVING IN TIKRIT WILL BE TRAINED IN 2015 IN THE AGHABANI TECHNIQUE IN A PARTNERSHIP WITH ARTISAN DU LIBAN, AL MAYMOUN NGO, UNHCR AND WITH EU FUNDING. THE STUDENTS LEARN DESIGN, SEWING, AGHABANI DESIGNS AND BUSINESS SKILLS. THE TECHNIQUE IS VERY CHALLENGING AND REQUIRES DAILY PRACTICE FOR THREE MONTHS TO MASTER IT.
‘Aghabani’ is a traditional Syrian embroidered textile with elegant patterns inspired by the flora of the Middle East. These handicrafts have been produced for centuries by Syrian artisans following ancient techniques, and are used to make tablecloths, clothing, pillows and other decorative items. Before the conflict broke out, these beautiful products were exported from Syria and could be found in stores around the world, including Lebanon.
Thanks to funding of the European Union, in 2014 UNHCR started a workshop in Tikrit, North Lebanon for Syrian and Lebanese women on the ‘Aghabani’ embroidery technique. Next to learning new skills the programme also offers the participants a chance to meet and interact, fostering a greater social cohesion between the two communities.
By the end of 2015, a total of 50 Lebanese and Syrian women will have benefited from the training, conducted by UNHCR in partnership with the Lebanese NGO Al Majmoua and the private non-profit company ‘L’Artisan du Liban’.
The embroidery is hand-made with an Aghabani machine, traditionally using silver, gold and white silk threads. Most of the women attending the workshop had never used an Aghabani machine before, let alone knew of the potential of the skill. The training encourages women to innovatively apply the Aghabani techniques to bring new designs onto the modern market.
“Every session lasts for three hours, and the women will have 35 sessions over three months. While learning this ancient embroidery tradition, Syrian and Lebanese women also have the opportunity to come together and socialize”, says UNHCR’s Danya Kattan.
There are currently 33 women participating in the course. Before the training started, the centre was rehabilitated by UNHCR’s partner Al Majmoua, thanks to a generous contribution of the European Union.
Syrian and Lebanese women gather at the Aghabani training centre in Tikrit. The centre in Tikrit is one of the many across the country that provide Syrian and Lebanese women a safe space to learn new skills as well as opportunities to meet, interact, and make friends with each other. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
The programme includes also trainings on different techniques such as stitching, design and sewing. Today the participants are learning design techniques during a session by Lebanese fashion designer Joyce. “These women are very motivated and I am sure they will be able to create great products once they have finished the training”, says Joyce, impressed by their creative designs. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
Syrian refugee Zeina, 32, practices the Aghabani stitching at the training centre in Tikrit. At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, Zeina moved to this village in northern Lebanon together with her husband and her four children. “Back in Syria I used to be a housewife”, she said. “I am very happy to have the opportunity to learn these skills now. I hope this workshop will open new opportunities for me”. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
The ‘arm’ of the Aghabani machine is operated from below the table to produce the stitching on the textile. Like the pen on paper, this arm creates the beautiful embroidered patterns on the fabric. The technique requires an extraordinary hand-eye coordination to be able control the fabric and the machine arm at the same time. With over 100 hours of training, the participants can master the Aghabani technique. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
Siham, 35, is a Lebanese woman born and raised in Tikrit, where she lives with her husband and four children. Her husband works as a doorman and she hopes to be able to contribute to her household. “When a new technique is very difficult I always sit with one of the Syrian women. They are really talented, I learn a lot from them”, shares Siham. By working and learning together the project contributes to greater cohesion between the two communities. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
Maher, the head instructor for the Aghabani course, gives the first Aghabani lesson to Inge, an External Relations Officer with UNHCR. “It is unbelievably difficult to control the stitching”, admits Inge after her first attempts. “It is impressive how well these women have mastered the skill in such a short period of time”. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
At the end of the day Roula recaps the session before the participants leave the training centre. Roula is the director of ‘L’Artisan du Liban’, a Lebanese organization which supports rural women in the production of artisanal products. “Our stores used to import Aghabani products from Damascus, but the embroidery production has been limited since the conflict broke out”, said Roula. “Training Lebanese and Syrian women in the Aghabani technique will help to preserve these Syrian artisanal skills”. (c) UNHCR/Sara Hoibak
The Aghabani training is part of the support provided by the European Union in response to the Syrian crisis. Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU generously contributed over USD 165 million (EUR 127 million) for UNHCR’s activities in Lebanon, to meet the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees and support Lebanese public institutions and vulnerable Lebanese communities.
UNHCR’s note: This story has been published in Arabic at:
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