Work That Pays More than Money

While we sit with Gule in her single room home in the refugee camp here in Iraq, the electricity goes out. The government only provides a few hours of electricity a day. Those who can afford to pay more get electricity from the neighbourhood generator during the off hours.

Gule can’t afford that.

We sit and talk in the dark. Our eyes slowly adjust. We pay Gule for her work, and she signs a receipt by the light cast from the open door.

Payday takes on a fresh poignancy when the exchange happens in the dark.

Craftswomen at Work

Some of the women you’ve helped to start seamstress businesses last year are also skilled in knitting and crochet. We asked if they would be interested in making products for share with our community, and they responded with excitement! They’ve been working hard over the past few months to create some of the beautiful items for sale in our shop—in time for Christmas.

This Is What Enthusiasm Looks Like.

We sit down with these craftswomen ahead of time, drawing up contracts and agreeing on product design, specifications, and price. We deliver the yarn, and work out a delivery schedule, so the finished product will be delivered on time for us to ship to you, and so our refugee friends can fit in their work with their family and business responsibilities.

Many of the women are so eager to do work they genuinely enjoy—that can be a rare gift in a refugee camp—that they fill our orders within days instead of weeks. They love making things with their hands. They can’t stop themselves from making more.

We commissioned one seamstress to make fabric gift bags for one of the gift shop products (a super sweet gift item that we can’t wait to show you!). She was so excited to make the bags, it became a family venture. Her husband and daughter helped to measure and cut the fabric, and she sewed all through the night!

But the most rewarding part of the experience is payday—getting to share the fruits of their labor with our refugee friends.

Impact Beyond Pay

The direct financial impact of their work is probably obvious—debts get paid, groceries get purchased, electricity gets provided, a little savings gets tucked away for a new life beyond the confines of a refugee camp.

But the emotional impact of being paid for a skill you didn’t know others valued—that’s priceless. When we call the craftswomen to check on their progress, when we sit with them in their homes in the refugee camp, this is what we hear: “I can’t wait to wake up in the morning, to start work!”

When we coach another woman through the process of starting a business, sometimes it takes several visits to suss out her skills. Refugee women who didn’t work outside the home before being displaced often think they have no marketable skills. How wrong they are! But it often takes time and many conversations to get past their deep modesty and discover their gifts and skills. Calling out and celebrating these skills is a truly transformational experience.

“She’s a completely different person. She didn’t think she could do anything.” Their families are often the first to notice the change.

In the end, this is most powerful aspect of investing in small businesses in sustainable ways—life-giving change you make possible in some of the hardest places on earth.