The keychains and bracelets were beaded by forcibly displaced women in Egypt, Kenya and South Sudan. In collaboration with Bawa Hope, Roots and Yadawee, three social enterprise partners, we worked with 150 refugee women who completed thousands of pieces of beading for this order, using their talents to support their families and contribute to the communities hosting them.
Ann, a refugee from Ethiopia, is living in the Gorom Refugee Camp in South Sudan. We were honoured that she was open to talking with us to share her story, and reflect on the ways that artisanal work positively impacts her life and the lives of her peers.
When did you come here and with who?
I arrived in South Sudan in 2003, now over 20 years in South Sudan as a refugee living at the Gorom Refugee Camp in Juba. I came with my five children, the eldest is now 30 years and the youngest is now 18 years.
Do you have children?
Yes, I have five children. Two boys and three girls.
How did you feel when you had to leave home?
I was a nurse back home in Gambela but had to run with my children to South Sudan when war broke out.
No one would feel happy to leave his or her country for another country, but because of war we had to run for safety, that is why I am here. They were recruiting young men, and boys and if you refused, they would kill them. Since their father was killed during the war, I had to run with them to South Sudan.
We spent 18 days walking from Gambela, Ethiopia to the South Sudan border in Pochalla. It was a hard journey, but we thank God we are here today.
Ann working on the UNIQLO order in South Sudan. Photo: UNHCR/ N. Abdulhak
What is your craft? How did you learn it?
As Anyuak, this craft making is something passed from generation to generation. You must learn the time you are growing up. It was rooted in our grandparents. However educated you are, a graduate or Ph.D. holder, you must know crafts for us the Anyauk.
*Anyuak are a tribe from southwest Ethiopia. There have been systematic and widespread atrocities committed against the Anuak by Ethiopian military units and local Ethiopians.
What kinds of items do you usually make?
For me we used to make beaded Calabash, necklaces, wrist beads, and beaded bags among others. But through the Roots project, now we can make so many different crafts as Gambella women. Roots has trained us and now we are experts.
*Roots is MADE51’s social enterprise partner in South Sudan
When did you first participate in this group?
I am among the first members who formed the Gambella women’s group, while we were still in Lologo Area upon our arrival from Pochalla in 2005.
We decided to form a group to help ourselves. We first started the group with 12 members but now we have reached 35 members. Personally, I appreciate every member of the group, because we work together as a team since the inception of the Gambella Women.
We always support each other as a group, which is a good part of our group.
Beaders working together on the UNIQLO order in South Sudan. Other pieces they've made (not for UNIQLO) are seen in the foreground. Photo: UNHCR/ N. Abdulhak
Are the techniques used to make this order (for UNIQLO), something new you had to learn? What skills have you learned?
We really thank Roots for always teaching us new techniques, yes for this project we are doing now, it’s something new.
Why is it important to you to be able to participate in production making? How does it make you feel?
This work we do is our life now. I can say that because it has really helped us the refugee women in Gorom, especially the Gambella Women. It means a lot to us.
Participating in this order for us is a source of income for our families. When these orders come and we are notified by the Roots, we feel happy, and it makes us busy all day until we finish.
When we don’t have orders, we are also idle and jobless, some people will be busy with farming like me, and some will just be at home but other members who have small capital will buy their materials and make their own beads.
How has your life changed since learning these skills and participating in the production, which provides some allowance for you and your family?
My life and of many other members of the group has totally changed to the better compared to other women in this refugee camp. I can send my daughters school fees in Uganda to study and also change their diets. I can afford better medical services for my family also.
I have seen a lot of benefits among the members of our group. The majority of the women in this group now live a standard life in the camp. They don’t cry when there is no food because they can afford something by themselves.
When we get larges orders it motivates the women to work hard, because the more you produce the more money you get in return. And for example, using money we earned last year, we formed a Village Saving Group. The money is in our savings, we only use it when a member of the group has a problem to support.
With large orders, we shall really prosper and flourish as Gambela women doing this crafts work.
What is your dream?
My dream is to see my children all educated and have a place to stay, like building a nice house for my children. I also want to open a big farm that will support me when there is no work.
Do you have anything you would like to convey a message to the people who will purchase the products you/your group is producing?
All I want to say is thank you MADE51, UNHCR, and everyone who is supporting us and giving us work to do. We as Gambela women remain grateful for the support we get through this project.
We are calling for more support. We also need sewing machines for bedsheets. When we do not get orders, we shall be busy sewing bedsheets that will also help generate income for us.
Contact Roots here if you would like to engage in this call for support.
How to shop the UNIQLO x UNHCR keychain and bracelet:
The exclusive #UNIQLOxUNHCR #WithRefugees keychain and bracelet are now available through select UNIQLO stores (and online) in Japan and the United States! We're also taking pre-orders for these items via our online shop for customers outside Japan and the US:
- Click here to shop online in Japan
- Click here to shop online in the USA
- Click here to pre-order if you’re in the rest of the world