By Nikki Savvides, Epicure & Culture Contributor
The worldwide displacement of people, particularly from the Middle East and North Africa, has increased rapidly over the past decade. Currently, a record 60 million people are displaced, having been forced to leave their homes due to conflict.
These millions have no choice but to find new places to call home, and are then forced to start from scratch, learning the language, finding work, forging community bonds and adjusting to a different life. There are various organizations worldwide aiming to help these displaced people settle into their new lives by providing them with the autonomous means to make an income and establish a footing in a foreign culture.
One such organization is Drop Earrings Not Bombs, a community-based jewelry-making social enterprise founded in March 2016 as a joint effort between Brazilian Paolo Thiago, Turkish native Alp Gurbuz and six women – Ayat, Fairda, Maha, Hiba, Amal, Sawsan and Lodi – displaced from Syria.
Paolo and Alp met each other volunteering in Greece at a camp for Syrians displaced due to the outbreak of war in their country, and were moved by their plight. They then traveled to Istanbul together to help people who have moved to Turkey from the Middle East and North Africa. At the same time, the six women had come together with the idea of developing a new creative initiative in a local community center in Istanbul.There are over 60 million displaced people in the world. Here's how one social enterprise is making a difference. #giveback Click To Tweet
Helping The Community Through Social Enterprise
The main goal of Drop Earrings Not Bombs, which is located within an NGO called Small Projects Istanbul, is to bring local families and individuals together “to participate in a variety of weekly programs designed to help them settle into their new lives and access the best opportunities possible to pave the way for a brighter future.”
With the center as their base, the six Syrian women, along with by Paolo and Alp, came up with the idea of making earrings to sell to the public. As well as providing a creative outlet, they thought they might be able to make a small income to help support themselves as they settled into their new lives in Turkey.
The 29 women of Drop Earrings Not Bombs are mostly from Syria, with a handful from Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq.
Displaced by war and civil tension, they moved to Istanbul with their families. Over the course of several years, they have forged a strong community among themselves, and have supported each other to find their footing in a foreign country and culture, particularly by working together to learn the language and computer skills, and to develop a small-scale creative project through which they can make an income.
They all live locally to the community center, and many of their children, who are close friends, go to nearby schools. The community center also provides childcare and summer programs for children and teenagers, meaning that entire families benefit from its existence.
While other family members may work and bring in money, by making the earrings the women receive additional funds with which to purchase food and support their children’s education. Additionally, they also engage in an enjoyable and creative social enterprise in the safe space of the community center.Check out how this social enterprise is helping to empower displaced women in #Istanbul through #jewelry #giveback Click To Tweet
Producing The Earrings
In a unique method, nylon and cotton are threaded into mandala-like shapes onto a silver or gold-plated curved frame. The method is not specifically tied to one culture; rather, it is a hybrid form of jewelry-making the women have worked hard to refine.
The women choose the designs and the colors, based on the designs that are selling well, as well as their personal preferences. Their creativity comes into play when they develop their own designs, often inspired by memories and imagery from nature.
For example, one set of earrings uses three colors together and a certain shape to look like a dove, another is reminiscent of peacock tail feathers, and another is the color of jasmine, which for some of the women is a connection to their homeland.
Selling The Earrings
Currently, Drop Earrings Not Bombs sells the earrings as a “gift” through PayPal, whereby people donate to the cause and receive them in return. There are limits on the amount of income Syrians in particular can make in Istanbul, and this restricts what DENB can do in terms the organization’s finances. It is hoped that in the future there will be a way to overcome this issue so that the earrings can be sold independently from the charitable side of the organization.
I spoke to Catie Jarman, the Project Coordinator of Drop Earrings Not Bombs, who explained why it’s important to be seen as more than just as a charity:
“We have always had the response that the design and product are beautiful and that that’s secondary to the charity aspect. People buy the earrings because of their aesthetic, not just because it’s jewelry that gives back to charity. Eventually it would be great to have our products sit next to other brands and designs as something beautiful in and of themselves. There’s a lot of self-esteem caught up in that, for the women, to not just feel that they’re just a charity, but able to produce something high quality that allows others to express themselves.”
Currently there are plans to expand the website and Instagram page, which are the main forms of marketing, to set up individual product pages, provide more information about the designs and the techniques used in making the earrings. This will take Drop Earrings Not Bombs to the next level in terms of its reach for consumers and bring in more income for the women, allowing them to further support their community and acculturation.
How To Empower Displaced People
Moving forward, the aim is for Drop Earrings Not Bombs to become more autonomous, with the women undertaking further computer training and Turkish language lessons to take them to the next level of competency in terms of managing the structures of a small business. Catie Jarman explained why it’s crucial for the women to become autonomous and self-empowered and not seen as charitable cases in need of external assistance:
“There’s so much loaded language used around people who are displaced – for instance, the term ‘refugee’ or ‘migrant’ can be disempowering, as can speaking on their behalf. Many organizations looking to empower people who are displaced through war often speak on their behalf; indirectly, this has the opposite effect.
We’ve spent a lot of time speaking with the group and getting information from them, so they can say ‘I’ rather than us saying ‘they’ or ‘them.’ The language of ‘I’ helps us to take responsibility for what we want to communicate, as well as customers hearing directly from the voices of ‘those’ that so often have their voice silenced. So having them take the reins would help find a balance in terms of how we share the product and bring it into the wider community. If we manage to achieve that, that would be a great thing.”Find out how you can help empower displaced women in #Istanbul with your #earrings! #giveback Click To Tweet
The best way to get involved with the project is to buy a pair of earrings. You’ll be empowering a group of displaced women through jewelry that gives back to charity, while also getting a gorgeous accessory.
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