Meet Abogo, one of the artisans that worked on the limited edition of refugee-made keychains UNIQLO released in June in honor of World Refugee Day.
The ‘UNHCRxUNIQLO #WithRefugees’ Keychains’ were beaded by forcibly displaced women in Kenya and South Sudan. The design brought together the colors of UNIQLO and UNHCR, representing the organization’s longstanding partnership.
To coordinate the production of this collaborative product, we worked with our local partners, Bawa Hope in Kenya and Roots in South Sudan. Over 135 refugee women completed thousands of pieces of beading.
We were honored that some of the women working on the order shared their stories and reflected on the ways that artisanal work positively impacts their lives. Abogo is one of the artisans that took time to tell us her story. Abogo is 33 years old and living in Gorom refugee settlement in South Sudan.
When did you come to Gorom Refugee Camp and with who?
I came in 2003 with my husband after a massacre [in Gambella, Ethiopia].
Do you have children?
I have two children.
What was your occupation in your country of origin?
I was a housewife.
What is the skill you used in making these pieces and how did you learn it?
I learned beadmaking from my tribe, the Nnyuak. It is part of our culture. And when I came here, I put it into practice.
Did you have to learn anything new to make these key chains?
What we are doing now is quite mathematical. We have to arrange 10-12 threads to take the same number of beads. Here we have many beads mixed together, to create something unique. To create something like a flag, you have to mix all the colours.
But when we were back in our country, we just used the colours that reflected our culture. Now we are learning variety. It wasn’t hard. It was a matter of changing the style, using the skills I already had.
What is it like to work as part of a group of artisans on these large orders?
We work as a group, we’re called Gambella Talking Beads. When we work we sing. It shows us the spirit of togetherness, as one tribe, as one group. It’s a group that creates a sense of peace, and also an income.
Has being an artisan, and earning a living, empowered you?
The work is tiring but it is really giving us something back. We can help ourselves. It helps me to support the family. It helped me to buy a cell phone and stock up on food for the family, in case we have nothing. So I’m happy, very glad about the project, and I will continue even though it’s tiring.
What is your dream?
If all goes well, I have a small project planned. If I have enough money, I want to open a small shop to be able to sell directly to customers.
Is there a message you would like to send to the people who will buy the keychain?
To those who buy the materials that we produce, I really appreciate them. I want to thank them very much.