n June 20th, 2023, the world comes together to observe World Refugee Day, a poignant reminder of the countless struggles faced by those forced to flee their homes. When we talk about refugees, our minds instantaneously visualize their sufferings, hardships, and the immense challenges they have faced. However, we must look beyond these hardships and recognize this community's incredible strength and limitless talent.
Artisanal crafts have become one important avenue for empowerment. From exquisite home décor pieces and handmade jewelry to beautifully woven rugs and other textiles, refugee artisans have discovered that their crafts not only serve as a means of survival, but also as a source of solace and hope. Through their artistic expression, they find a way to reclaim a sense of identity, preserve cultural heritage, and transcend the hardships that have befallen them.
In this spirit, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, has established the MADE51 program, which stands as a beacon of light amidst the darkness. This innovative project harnesses the talent and craftsmanship of refugee artisans, providing them with training, resources, and market access. By collaborating with local partners, MADE51 helps these skilled artisans transform their crafts into sustainable livelihoods, empowering them to rebuild their lives and secure a brighter future for themselves and their families.
The impact of MADE51 extends far beyond economic empowerment. It fosters a sense of pride, purpose, and community among refugee artisans. Moreover, it enables them to share their stories and cultural heritage with the world, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rich tapestry of human experiences.
As we commemorate World Refugee Day, let us remember that by supporting programs like MADE51 and recognizing the transformative power of craft, we can contribute to the restoration of hope, dignity, and self-reliance for those who have been forced by circumstances to leave their motherland behind. Together, let us build a more inclusive and compassionate world that celebrates the strength and contributions of refugees, not only on this day but every day.
Continue reading to know more about the importance of World Refugee Day and the therapeutic value of craft. Before that, let’s have a look at one of Qalara’s fair-trade certified sellers who works in partnership with MADE51 and is committed to upcycling waste fabric and empowering Afghan women refugees in New Delhi.
The seller currently generates sustainable incomes for 60-70 women refugees, adhering to the principles of fair wages, a clean working environment within walking distance from their homes, and observes a zero-tolerance policy towards child labor.
The label makes beautiful rag dolls and upcycled fabric stuffed toys that get designed, cut, stitched, and embroidered exclusively by hand. Its designs extensively include dressing up an inclusive range of dolls and stuffed animals with adorable replicas of ethnic attires like the Indian Kurta, the African Kanga, and several other folk apparels. Every offering is made from cotton and woolen fabric scraps that would otherwise be discarded as surplus waste and infiltrate our landfills. These are usually obtained from local design hubs and factories. Ever since its inception, this label has been trying to create beauty out of discards, instead of straining an already stressed textile ecosystem.
Every offering that gets an esteemed re-birth at this studio can be traced back to innovative ideas and skillful execution on the part of its utterly creative artisans! All artists working for this label are refugee women from Afghanistan who have left behind their homeland and taken shelter in India several years ago.
This label has given them an identity that goes beyond the ‘immigrant’ stereotype by providing them purpose and sustenance in a foreign land. Today, these inspiring women artisans have built a haven and a strong community for themselves. They have a steady source of income that they rightfully deserve. Most importantly, bringing smiles to kids’ faces around the world with their toys is their greatest reward. But above all, they now have a sense of belonging!
While programs like MADE51 are helping the refugees have a sense of belonging, the global refugee crisis and its profound repercussions affect millions of people worldwide. Uprooted from their homes due to conflict, persecution, or other unbearable circumstances, many of these people and communities are yet to find their footing in a foreign land. As per UNHCR, 108.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced at the end of 2022 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order. Out of that, there are 35.3 million refugees, 62.5 million internally displaced people and 5.4 million asylum seekers. Low and middle-income countries hosted 76 percent of the world’s refugees and other people in need of international protection. 70 percent of refugees and other people in need of international protection lived in countries neighboring their countries of origin.
The scale of this crisis can be overwhelming, but by understanding its intricacies, we can begin to empathize with the struggles faced by refugees. Each person’s journey is unique, filled with unimaginable hardships, uncertainty, and fear. They embark on treacherous journeys, often risking their lives, crossing borders and seas in search of safety. It is a journey that tests their tenacity and highlights the strength of the human spirit.
In the face of such immense challenges, World Refugee Day emerges as a beacon of hope, serving as a reminder of our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity with refugees. This special day, observed every year on June 20th, is dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of refugees and fostering empathy and understanding in our communities.
World Refugee Day provides an opportunity for people around the world to come together, acknowledge the struggles faced by refugees, and extend a helping hand. It serves as a call to action, urging individuals, governments, and organizations to support and protect the rights and well-being of refugees.
But it is not a day to be sorrowful and sympathetic. It is a day to celebrate the incredible strength and perseverance of the refugees. It is a day to recognize their dedication, talents, and contributions that enrich our world. By amplifying their stories, we humanize their experiences and challenge the misconceptions and stereotypes often associated with them.
On World Refugee Day, let us join hands to break down barriers and build bridges of understanding. It is a day to listen, learn, and act, whether by supporting initiatives that provide essential aid, advocating for policy changes, or simply showing kindness and compassion to those seeking refuge.
Amidst the immense challenges faced by refugees, art and craft emerge as powerful tools for healing and self-expression. Numerous studies have highlighted the therapeutic benefits of engaging in artistic activities, particularly for individuals navigating through adversity. Craft provides an outlet for refugees to channel their emotions, express their experiences, and find solace in the creative process.
For refugees forced out of their homelands, craft serves as a powerful tool to preserve their cultural heritage and retain a sense of identity. By practicing traditional crafts and passing down ancestral techniques, refugees keep their cultural traditions alive, even amid displacement.
Craft becomes a vehicle for storytelling, where the threads of their culture are woven into every stitch, every brushstroke, and every dent of the carving tool. Through their craft, refugees not only preserve their cultural practices but also find a sense of belonging within their new communities. Craftsmanship becomes a medium that connects diverse cultures, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rich tapestry of human experiences. In addition, craft empowers refugees to redefine their narratives and challenge stereotypes.
The program works closely with refugee artisans, nurturing their talents, and helping them refine their skills. It offers training in product development, quality control, and business management, equipping them with the necessary tools to thrive in the competitive market. MADE51 ensures that these talented individuals receive fair wages for their creations, allowing them to support themselves and their families, rebuild their lives, and envision a brighter future.
~ Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
MADE51 has forged partnerships with renowned brands, creating a platform for refugee artisans to showcase their creations to the world. These partnerships provide a much-needed market for their products, ensuring a sustainable demand and fair compensation for their artistic endeavors. By incorporating the unique designs and cultural elements brought forth by refugee artisans, brands embrace diversity and promote a more inclusive approach to business.
The success stories emerging from the MADE51 partnership are a testament to the program’s impact. Refugee artisans have overcome immense challenges and transformed their lives through their craft. From handcrafted textiles and jewelry to intricate home décor items, their creations captivate hearts and minds across the globe. Through the platform provided by MADE51, refugee artisans are not only sharing their stories but also challenging preconceived notions and dismantling stereotypes associated with refugees.
~ Nyamvura Koronaria, artisan group leader in Mtendeli Camp, Tanzania
The positive change brought about by the MADE51 program extends beyond the individual artisans. It ripples through their communities, inspiring hope and showcasing the immense talent that often goes unnoticed amid the hardships faced. The program not only empowers artisans to rebuild their lives but also enables them to contribute to the growth and vibrancy of their new communities.
As we celebrate World Refugee Day, let us recognize the pivotal role of programs like MADE51 in reverberating the voices and talents of refugee artisans. By supporting these initiatives, we not only invest in the economic empowerment of individuals but also foster a more inclusive and compassionate world — one that recognizes the immense value that refugees bring to society through their craftsmanship. Together, we can uplift and support these remarkable artisans as they craft a brighter future for themselves and inspire us all with their indomitable spirit.
~ Written by Utkarsha Rai