Striving to better the lives of women and children in refugee camps in war-torn Jordan, a young change maker founded Khoyoot-Threads two years ago.
by Aisiri Amin
As wars destroy homes, displace people and bring out a certain vulnerability in the survivors, positivity seems like a blurry delusion. More often than not, it’s easy to give up especially for women and children who battle worsening situations every day in refugee camps. It’s in such an environment that Basma Nazer founded Khoyoot-Threads in 2015 to give them something to look forward to and to economically empower them.
With a vision to help the women and children in the refugee camps to be independent and to create a healthy and positive environment revolving around tolerance and acceptance, Nazer set up Khoyoot-Threads.
Basma Nazer talks to INKLINE about how her enterprise strives to help women and children, the product lines Khoyoot-Threads started and much more.
INKLINE: Tell us about Khoyoot-Threads and how it empowers women and children in refugee camps in Jordan?
Basma Nazer: Khoyoot – Threads Initiative focuses on creating partnerships with women in refugee camps to produce product lines and sell them worldwide to increase their income and boost creativity. The essence of this project is to empower women to create art while preserving the culture and participating fully in the economic and social makeup of the community. We started with Baqa’a camp which is considered the biggest in Jordan.
Our products target different groups and in return, we give back a percentage of our earnings to the community for development and support. We also focus a lot on working with the women who are not allowed to work from outside their homes.
Kashkashet Biladi is the first product line which is a collection that focuses on handmade traditional embroidery outfits for girls (1-12 years) stitched by refugee women in Baqa’a camp which include a shirt and a matching skirt. The sets are fully produced in the camp.
We created a brand, sold it online and it has been quite successful. Women passionately embroider girls’ outfits and use the funds to purchase similar outfits for girls in the camp. Vibrant coloured threads enhance the outfits while adding a touch of beauty and spreading joy among all girls. Every set sold supports another set for a girl in the camp and this creates a unique bond between the girls in the camp and our customers and it also preserves the heritage of Palestinian embroidery.
I: What made you start this positive initiative?
B: While living in Oxford in 2012 to pursue my MBA degree, I was introduced to a project that was about working on a Palestinian Tapestry with the history of Palestine stitched on big panels in camps in Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. I joined them as the organiser in Jordan and I started visiting camps looking for women who could stitch and work with us.
I was introduced to Baqa’a Camp and I thought that there was a lot of potential to work on other projects. It took us around a year to look for material and designs before we launched but I was sure that this will benefit the camp big time. I also wanted to make a lot of change in the camp. The women and children need so much help and this can be done with many projects that can support them.
I: What other product lines did Khoyoot-Threads start? How do you make a profit?
B: There is something called “Alo Tatreez” which is a mobile cover with embroidery. This product line helped create more embroidery courses at the camp to maintain a good number of women that can work for us and can support their families.
Khoyoot-Threads also focuses on building threads between communities in West Amman and their counterparts in Baqa’a camp to empower, develop and help camps in Jordan with a focus on women and children. We bring women together to learn from each other in sessions like embroidery classes and much more.
We target customers worldwide that have an interest in Palestinian embroidery depending on the products produced. We have set a different segment for our business and we do not compete with the usual embroidery shops. We set our prices medium to high to give a share of it to the camp as well as make profit.
Our main sales are during special events like Eid and summer. We are able to cover our expenses but we still need to work on training more women to cater to great quantities of orders. We have been growing thanks to the early customers as well as orders from Canada, the US, Jordan, UAE, KSA, and the UK.
I: Can you elaborate on how the unstable conditions of Jordan is affecting the people, especially the women and children?
B: The unstable conditions are increasing the number of refugees. We have camps especially for Syrians but even Baqa’a camp which is mainly for Palestinians has many Syrians coming. This increases the number of women and children who need work as we have more women who wantto learn and develop. We like to benefit them all.
I: How has Khoyoot-Threads impacted the lives of women and children in refugee camps?
B: Khoyoot-Threads has immensely contributed to the economic empowerment of the women in the camp. It has improved the well-being of women by making them work from the comfort of the camp. It has equipped many girls with life skills as the project not only focus on economic empowerment but also on helping the women to get out and learn something new and talk to new friends and develop many skills that they are not usually exposed to.
This initiative has created space for dialogue between children from different classes and backgrounds and an environment for tolerance and acceptance and cohabitation in healthy livelihoods.
It has increased teamwork with a sense of solidarity between the different parties working on the project. It has also helped girls and women connect easily with one another across the country and create an organically sustained, informal and safe forum to help each other.
I: How do you manage to get the funding for this initiative?
B: We did not get any funding yet. We only invested was I have put in the project when we started and now we want the project to support itself from the sales.
I: What has been the most uplifting part of your journey?
B: The happiness you get from seeing the progress of the women, girls, and children is priceless. The smiles on their faces when you give them a new set of clothing or support them in any other way is just the best part of getting you moving. The feedback I also received from the mothers and people buying the products was amazing. I got excellent feedback and people thanking me for my initiative and for giving them the opportunity to help and support the camp.
“The happiness you get from seeing the progress of the women, girls, and children is priceless.”
I: What has been the biggest challenge?
B: The biggest challenge for us is maintaining a good number of women to work for us. The “Alo Tatreez” collection is mainly focused on teaching more and more women to master embroidery. The male figures in the camp does affect the work as women are sometimes forced to stay in their houses. What we can do in this situation is to go to their houses and deliver and pick up the work needed. This causes a slower pace with work that needs to be fixed.
I: What does the future look like for Khoyoot-Threads?
B: We are planning on producing many more product lines that will benefit many more target groups in the camp. We need to focus more on little boys and also teenagers. Each needs different tools for development.
We want to link the camp with many more countries that will buy the products and fund the women.
I: What advice would you give to aspiring youths who hope to work towards bringing a positive change in the society?
B: I would tell them to start now as there is never free time. It took us so much time to start the initiative due to work and a busy life but finally, things started and the happiness you get from the work is just amazing. That will keep you moving forward with a lot of passion.
Aisiri Amin is a journalist specialising in social justice, gender issues and culture. She has written for The Hindu and works as a freelance writer. Social wallflower and an idealist at the core, she lives on books, tea and hope (in that particular order).