Shayma holds the tear-dropped shaped earring in her hand, and leans in close to show me how the knot is made. Twice she wraps a coral colored string around the top and threads it through. Then she shows me how to make the pattern, weaving different colored thread around the form until she’s satisfied. Finally she holds out the earring for me to admire: it fits perfectly into the palm of her small hand. These earrings and the dozens of others she makes every day as part of her job at the women’s social enterprise Small Projects Istanbul will be sold online at Muhra.org. Their marketing tagline? Drop Earrings, Not Bombs.
Shayma fled from her home in Mosul after the Iraqi city was taken over by ISIS. She has lived in Istanbul with her husband and five children for three years, and found work at the Small Projects Istanbul, an independent NGO that operates a community center for displaced Syrians and Iraqis. In addition to providing daycare and educational and technical training classes, Small Projects has its own women’s social enterprise, The Muhra Store, where displaced women who have moved to Istanbul are hired to use their artisan skills to handcraft jewelry and clothing. Proceeds from all sales go directly back to the makers, allowing the women to make money to support their families, a huge help considering how hard it is for refugees to find legal work in Turkey.
After Shayma teaches me how to make the earrings, she takes out her phone to show me photos of her family. Here is her husband, whom she thinks is as handsome as the day they first met. Here is her son at his engagement party in Iraq, dancing in a line with his friends. She wasn’t allowed to attend the party because she does not have a re-entry visa for Turkey. Do you ever miss home? I ask, scrolling through her photos. “Every night I think about my old house and cry myself to sleep,” Shayma says. She wants to go back, if only for a visit, but her family refuses because there’s not much to go back to—Mosul was all but destroyed by ISIS’s rule. The home she thinks about at night likely no longer exists.
In addition to the earrings, the women of Muhra make necklaces and bracelets and hand sew t-shirts with inspiring Arab women on the front, including the Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum and the Lebanese pop star Feyrouz. On the back the same message is printed in English, Arabic and Turkish: “Be a voice, not an echo.” You can shop the entire collection here.
Thanks to Intrepid Travel for providing travel and accommodations.