The table was filled with maps and magic markers—rough drawings of the Maker Space centered in the weed-filled property that surrounds it, and the means to mark down dreams in bright colors. A growing group of women who live at this refugee camp in northern Iraq are finding this space a vital part of the way they earn a living to support their families.
But these women need more than just the means to survive. They need space to heal the trauma caused by war, and rebuild full lives.
Delveen looked down at her map, thoughtful. She had been asked to mark what might be the perfect location for taking a break when she needed to set down a crocheted washcloth in progress. Before she could settle on a spot, her friend Fatima called over, her own map in hand. “Where are you going to sit?” Fatima asked, “Because I want to sit beside you.”
Delveen and Fatima know this truth: healing doesn’t happen alone.
Listening to Women’s Dreams
Everything we do is rooted in listening. For years we’ve heard the Syrian women in this camp process what it’s like to be refugees. In the first years, they were learning how to cope in a different country, without any of the belongings that made life functional for them before. After the initial shock of displacement wore off, they had to figure out how to get their families what they needed, so they didn’t lose any more time to war. They focused on their children’s education, starting businesses, and deepening friendships with their new camp neighbors.
In the last couple of years, our friends in the camp have shifted their thinking again. Very few of these families will likely ever be able to return home to Syria. This refugee camp is their home now. And they’re ready to build into their new lives the kind of normal spaces we all take for granted. A place outside the house to meet with friends for a chat. A beautiful space just to appreciate nature. Garden beds to grow the foods they miss most.
A few at a time, we sat down with our refugee maker friends, who spend their days creating candles and tea towels, pottery and scarves. We asked them to tell us their dreams for this place. What did they miss about their gardens back in Syria? What did they want to see grown? How do they want the space used?
As dreams poured out of each woman, we recorded their answers. Moms wanted a playground within sight of their workspace. Women from Damascus wanted the smell of jasmine to fill the garden, just like it did in the city they fled. They long for grapes growing over trellises, maybe even a fountain. Above all, they insisted this area must have a spot where they can sit and visit with each other.
These women spoke out loud their readiness to plant roots—and it resonated. Creating (or re-creating) connection is as much a part of the work we do as every bag of emergency food, every new job created, every refugee-owned business we help launch. These are means to an end of helping these women live full lives, fully connected to all they are and all they can be—and to each other.
The land around the Maker Space looks rough—there’s no denying it. As you approach the building, litter is scattered across the green space. All around, the weeds are nearly waist-high. At the entrance, young trees broken off at their crowns speak to a place that was meant to be beautiful, but has been seriously neglected.
But before this place was host to refugees, it was farmland. It has a history of feeding people in this region. It’s had a chance to lay fallow and rest for several years now, but it’s a perfect spot to push seeds into the ground, to transform into something beautiful again, with and for our refugee friends.
Investing in their Current Dreams
For every family living in this refugee camp, this is Plan B. Living peacefully in Syria was always the plan, but sometimes life falls apart in ways we can’t foresee. We are partnering with them to build a future they didn’t choose, but one they’re completely invested in.
For women whose lives became reduced to eking out an existence in a tiny home in a refugee camp, we’re coming alongside them to offer something more. We have the chance to create a space where they can, in their own words, “heal from trauma” and “refresh their minds.”
International Women’s Day is a perfect time to stand with our sisters in a way that will nourish their bodies, hearts, and minds.