“What we’ll see tonight is a very laudable effort to showcase the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the refugees,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi, said as a prelude to Huma Adnan’s showcase of The Craft Stories this weekend in Islamabad. The evening was organized and hosted by the UNHCR, UNOCHA and Giz to exhibit accessories created by refugees living in Karachi and highlight the humanitarian crises that the world is collectively going through at this point in time.
“We are so used to considering refugees as victims and weak people, as people who are hungry and in need of shelter – and don’t get me wrong, they are often all these things – but they should not make us forget that these are people like you and me and all of us with potential and skills that need to be nurtured, with hopes and aspirations that have been trampled by history and by events and by other people. And I think that tonight, in this environment that is so different from refugee camps and settings that it would be good to give them honour and dignity as they deserve,” Mr Grandi elaborated.
These words rung true as dignitaries from the United Nations, foreign embassies and government organizations associated with the cause assembled at the Serena Islamabad for an evening highlighted by Huma Adnan’s fashion show. Half a dozen models walked out in colourful FnkAsia creations; the higher purpose being the accessories that they wore. Each model flaunted unique handcrafted pieces that had been made by refugee men and women who have been working with Huma in Karachi for the last six months. The entire collection of accessories, now branded and being retailed as The Craft Stories, will provide basic means of livelihood to these refugees to sustain a simple life.
As Mr Grandi said, the colours of the show reminded one of the hopes and aspirations that these people have, before they are relegated to being refugees.
“I have always been one to empower and encourage women with the will to follow their aspirations,” Huma Adnan said about joining hands with the UNHCR. “I believe that we, as fashion influencers, have the potential to start new economic cycles and as my brand already utilizes indigenous crafts from different parts of the world, I became very excited and took the challenge of working with these women, to polish their craft and train their business acumen. The result is in front of you.”
The result was indeed vibrant. The artisans had created several different designs, proceeds of which will empower them financially. According to statistics, one in every 110 people in the world is displaced; last year almost 30 people were forced to flee their homes per minute. Half of the displaced are children, which makes for very depressing statistics. Refugees are not offered citizenship in host countries, which makes it impossible for them to earn an honourable livelihood or for their children to get an education. Let that sink in.
What this project will do is give the refugees a means to livelihood plus a skill that can be taken anywhere they go in the world.
“Every piece in this collection has a special meaning to me personally because I know the stories of each and every person who has worked on The Craft Stories,” Huma Adnan shared on the side lines of the event. She elaborated that most of the refugees were accountants, or nurses or office employees back in their hometowns. They were not artisans and yet they were quick learners and had mastered the craft in no time.
“Filippo and I travel the world to do our jobs and we meet children, like the ones we met sitting on mats in a school in a sub-district of FATA, like the children we met on the outskirts of Kabul yesterday, like so many people whose lives are caught up in crises of one sort or another,” UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Mr Mark Lowcock spoke at the event. “The single most important thing to remember is that those people are just the same in their aspirations, in their hopes, in their fears, in their anxieties, in their desire for a better life for themselves and their children as all of us except, life’s lottery has been kinder to us than to them. It’s a mark of your collective humanity, for people fleeing their lives, that you all share the understanding but for the Grace of the Creator, our experience could be just the same as theirs.”