One of the things that makes MADE51 special is our network of social enterprise partners based in refugee-hosting countries. These businesses work directly with refugee artisans to create unique MADE51 products, market them to buyers, manage production and fulfill orders. Through these businesses, refugees earn fair wages, enhance their artisan skills, and - in many cases - get the chance to connect with the local community. Our 'Founder Series' showcases the story behind these businesses, and the people that bring them to life.
Pomegranate Seeds is a Fair Trade that supports women-only artisans in marginalized communities. Pomegranate Seeds is based in Quetta, Pakistan, and works with Afghan refugee women as well as women who have fled war and experienced hardship. Pomegranate Seeds gives refugee women an opportunity to harness their creative skills and get back on their feet as their products are a means for these women to tell their story.
Khadija Khan, the founder of Pomegranate seeds , is passionate about reviving antique and traditional embroideries that are indigenous to South Eastern and Central Asian regions. We're thrilled she shared her story with us.
Tell us a little bit about your social enterprise – where are you based, what products are you making, and who is your main customer?
Led by Khadija Khan, Pomegranate Seeds works with Afghan Refugees located in Quetta Pakistan who are gifted at embroidery skills.
Afghan refugees are one of the largest refugee populations in the world with 2.6 million refugees worldwide who have fled war, natural disaster, chronic poverty, and food insecurity in their country.
With Pomegranate Seeds, Afghan Refugees are received into a community of other creative minds. Together, they collaborate and work for a dignified, fair wage.
We wanted to hear more from Khadija about the story behind the enterprise ,its products, their technique and what inspires him as a social entrepreneur and advocate for refugees.
What Inspired you to start this business?
I have always been fascinated by antique heritage crafts, especially Afghan and Central Asian embroidery. Whilst collecting historic crafts I realized that the art of traditional embroidery is dying much quicker than one could imagine and it needed to be preserved in some way. Thankfully my skills at different embroidery styles were of great assistance as I tried to recreate some traditional embroideries with a touch of modernity to them. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own so I started to look for Afghan refugee women who could do embroidery but only managed to find a handful. That’s when I realized that I need to teach them in their own long lost art. I carried out training on different crafts with the refugees.
The timings were favourable and the regional UNHCR office at Quetta took notice of my efforts and appreciated the idea of engaging homebound Afghan refugee artisans into livelihood programs such as handicrafts. I am very happy with how things have turned out and the support my team and I were able to extend towards the refugees. I am hopeful that this wonderful practice will go a long way. The idea that I had about Pomegranate Seeds which is an altruistic local social enterprise that serves its producers, customers, suppliers, local communities and the ecosystem through its core business processes is finally coming into form and MADE51 has been of tremendous support in this journey.
How many artisans (host and refugee) do you work with and where are they from? For the refugee artisans, what are their lives like outside of work? What kind of work opportunities do their family members and spouses have?
Currently 200 Afghan Refugee artisans are working with Pomegranate Seeds trained in different skills 50 of those are full time producers. The number of host community artisans is 15. The refugee artisans are homebound and their husbands are mostly daily wage laborers. Some of the women artisans work as domestic helpers for the host community. Unfortunately the trend of drug addiction is fast growing amongst refugee men therefore it makes some of the women sole breadwinners for their families. For the host community artisans, embroidery is not the only way of earning and they have other opportunities for making ends meet.
Zainab, Afghan refugee woman working on Dozi Bird Ornament, in partnership with Pomegranate Seeds.
What inspired you to start working with refugees?
Well firstly why not refugees! Refugees are amazing people with amazing skills and they have all the rights to attain financial independence. On a more personal note, I have Afghan roots and I get my passion to work for Afghan refugees through my personal family history. I have found the refugees to be the most resilient and hard working people who are eager to learn. Whilst training the artisans I tried to look for women who were at the bottom most degree of their socio-economic hierarchy as I was determined to work with the most marginalized fragment of the refugees.
Most of the refugee artisans come from families with strict patriarchal norms, therefore we ensure that they keep earning in the comforts of their homes and their domestic lives stay untroubled. The change that Pomegranate Seeds is striving for is turning the refugees into skilful producers who were once deemed as a burden and a liability in their own households. The change is not massive and involves a lot of work but I believe, only through economic empowerment these marginalized women build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.
What craft techniques do the refugee artisans you work with artisans specialize in and where did they learn these skills?
I have had the wonderful experience of working with different ethnicities of Afghan refugees and each ethnicity has a different skill. The artisans specialize in different forms of embroidery like Arfah dozi, Zanjeera, Khamak, Suzan dozi and so much more. The self taught artisans are just a handful and mostly belong to the age group of 50-60 years. It makes me very happy that I along with these handful of artisans trained the rest of the artisans in their own lost craft. The reason so many refugees gave up their heritage crafts is mostly due to the fact that it did not generate them with a sound income and now when they see that enterprises like ours with the help of MADE51 UNHCR paying them fair wages, their interest has grown back.
Habiba, Afghan refugee woman working on Dozi Bird Ornament, in partnership with Pomegranate Seeds, a social enterprise partner in Afghanistan.
What makes the skills/techniques special? What have you learned about the cultural relevance or history of craftsmanship/techniques?
The skill of embroidery and weaving is deeply ingrained in the cultural history of Afghanistan, and is traditionally done by women and girls. Afghanistan is home to different ethnic groups and cultures and therefore the materials, designs, techniques and colours used by the Afghan people for their embroideries reflect the fundamental and important location of their country. There is a lot of symbolism, tribal identity, heritage value and aesthetic detail involved when it comes to Afghan embroideries. Moreover, the hard work it takes to create these crafts, makes them even more special and that is why Pomegranate Seeds honours and cherishes the skills of its refugee artisans.
What have you learned about the refugee crisis from working with these artisans (in general, in your country, or in the country of origin of the refugee artisans)
Refugees are people who have escaped war, persecution, and violence and taken refuge in different neighbouring countries. The people of Afghanistan have endured more than 40 years of conflict, natural disasters, chronic poverty, food scarcity and the COVID-19 pandemic has further added to their misery. Violence in Afghanistan has worsened in intensity which has resulted in more human suffering and displacement. The resilience of Afghan refugees and the resilience of their host communities is being stretched to the absolute limit and it's high time for the world (the influential countries in particular) to take concrete steps to resolve this great human crisis. The change will not be achieved overnight, but until it happens, we must all act with kindness and warmth towards the refugees as nobody willingly leaves their entire lives behind with just the hope of being safe and alive in another place or country.
What has been the most challenging part about working with refugees, and what has been the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of working with refugees was attuning them with the idea of learning skills that can generate them an income. Pomegranate Seeds is mentoring the refugees artisans about creating quality goods which they can trade for a sustainable earning and not depend on aid. It has been a difficult journey to change their mindsets (from aid to trade) but it's refreshing to see them now understand the fact that aid is not the solution of getting ahead in life, it is education and learning livelihood skills that will open new opportunities for them.