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Women’s Pooled Skills Make a Resilient Labor Force

Even in exile, the founders of Khayr’s knitting collective have no interest in sitting still—and their energy is happily contagious.

“Fatima and I were working in Syria,” says Marwa Iyssa, and once forced to move to Turkey, “we couldn’t stand sitting in house doing nothing!” But in Reyhanli they discovered that women who tried to sell their handiwork through Turkish dealers received as little as 16% of the sale price—“which we believe is completely unfair!” Marwa exclaims.

With more Syrians arriving each day, the two felt it was crucial for refugees to have a positive project, not only to earn money, but to better their psychological and social conditions.

So the women joined forces with the aid organization Watan. They started small: 10 women in one office, with materials paid for out of their own pockets. But after Watan secured funding, the group swelled to 100 members in just four months.

Members have different specialties and stories, but all share the same deep desire: to provide for their loved ones. Gaithaa’, 39, can knit with one or two needles or on a small loom, and has been the sole breadwinner for her six children since her husband was killed in a public hospital in Syria. Thourayya , 36, knits with one needle to support her four kids as her husband has no work in Turkey. 57-year-old Hiyam from Banias knits with one or two needles and lives with her brother’s family, whose sole other income is that of his 17-year-old son.

The women are now selling “everywhere we can reach: America, the KSA, Canada, Qatar, Turkey, the UK, Lebanon and France,” plus some orders to be distributed in Syria.

For more info –  The group’s Facebook pages “Syrian Touch” and “Syrian Renaissance

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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