Oxfam Story

Our vision is a world without poverty. We believe that every human being is entitled to a life of dignity and opportunity, and we work with underprivileged communities, local partner organizations, volunteers, and supporters to help this become a reality.

“These bags are special and different from any other bags because they are made of tents. They reflect the suffering Syrian refugees endured here in the burning hot summer and in the frigid winter”. Nour is a Syrian refugee who participated in the Lel-Haya bags project.

Lel-Haya means “for life”. Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan is home to nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees. After years of displacement, refugees in Za’atari have moved from their temporary canvas tents into more durable caravans. While living conditions have somewhat improved, refugee women in particular still have very few work opportunities. In the Za’atari camp, however, Syrian refugee women have seized the opportunity to earn a small income by upcycling discarded refugee tents to produce high-quality bags out of a canvas made to withstand even the most extreme conditions. 100% of the profit from these bags is redistributed amongst the women who made them, allowing them the opportunity to help provide for themselves and their families. This project is a collaboration between Syrian refugee women and Oxfam in the Za’atari refugee camp. With thanks to More Than Shelters for their past support of this project. The project is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The war in Syria has entered its eighth year, and more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees have been forced to flee to neighboring countries in search of safety. Jordan provides a safe haven for close to 660,000 Syrians registered as refugees with UNHCR across the country. Refugees in Za’atari Camp are not allowed to leave without a permit, which needs to be renewed every two weeks. Women refugees are doubly disadvantaged. As of July 2018, women hold only around 4 percent of the total permits issued to refugees nationwide. In Za’atari camp, less than a third of ‘cash-for-work’ positions go to women. Some Syrian women in Za’atari have obtained work permits, which allow them to work outside on neighboring farms or in garment factories. But for many, working outside the camp is not an option. Often, male family members prohibit their wives, daughters, and sisters from working at all.

In response to the challenges women in the camp face with working, Oxfam has designed programs to meet the specific needs of women, including the Lel-Haya bags project. With Lel-Haya, women can come together to build their skills and earn a small income, on a more accommodating schedule and within the borders of the camp. “We have three sizes, and as each contains a different part of the UNHCR logo, which makes every piece very unique,” said Suha Ali, a trainer in the program, noting that “the project has been a tremendous success, and has helped so many women already.” A former seamstress back in Syria, Suha now helps fellow refugee women living in the camp, with a special focus on single mothers, women with disabilities, and widows. More than 300 women have been trained in sewing techniques over the course of the project, learning how to design and sew practical and fashionable bags.

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