Adelle swung by to pick me up in her car to meet our newest refugee artisan. All I knew was that she had four little boys and that she was sewing hand embroidered bookmarks after the boys went to sleep at night. Driving through the local neighborhoods, Adelle and I were able to handle other Woven Dignity details. Soon, the neighborhood changed into buildings that were run down and uncared for.
As we climbed the stairs to Malak’s apartment, I couldn’t take it all in fast enough. The stairs had pieces of crumbled brick from where the building was disintegrating. The word “Condemned!” should have been written across the entrance way, but instead the building was fully occupied. I could feel the eyes of the tenants watching the foreign lady arrive. Electricity wires ran everywhere in haphazard, couldn’t-care-less, chaos. Four flights of stairs and we arrived at the “home” of Malak and her children.
This home was one room with a tiny kitchen attached. There was one window with no screen. A fan mounted on the wall. No furniture. We sat on the cement floor. There were two small, old, round throw cushions for Adelle and me to sit on (the most honored place in the home). The ceiling lacked plaster in part, exposing boards. I snapped a picture and imagined in winter it might leak. There were nine children present. Quiet. Tentative. Curious. Smiling. Sitting. Watching. All relatives.
Malak, her husband, and family escaped from Syria a few short months ago. She is a gentle spirit with four lovely boys, born within 5.5 years. The oldest is now seven and the youngest is one and a half. I empathize because my husband and I had four boys in seven years. Malak’s husband is working away from home in Lebanon and does not return during the week so that he does not have to pay for the expensive taxi rides. All his money is going to pay off the debt incurred from escaping Syria.
I asked sweet Malak several questions. “How is living in Lebanon better than living in Syria?” She responded, “In Syria we couldn’t find food. We would go from village to village to find food. At least here I can find food. It is expensive, but at least it is here.” I could imagine those miles of bombed out villages that I saw in Syria, and it took no stretch of my imagination for them not being able to find food.
Inquisitively, I asked through Adelle translating, “How is working for Woven Dignity helping you?”
Malak rattled off in Arabic her response then Adelle translated. Malak shared that because her husband is paying off a debt, all her money from sewing is going to feed the children. When she first gets paid, they eat well but by the time we come again to pick up more bookmarks, the quantity and quality of the food is less and less. The children continued to stare at me with their curious eyes. I winked and they would smile shyly at me.
Adelle began to inspect the bookmarks for quality and accuracy. She then began to count and calculate Malak’s pay. The children take in every move. Adelle pulls out her calculator and explains to me that several weeks prior Malak had to borrow $27 from Woven Dignity due to needing to enter the hospital with her youngest son. Today she would finish paying off the debt with $1 to the positive.
I’m sitting there doing my own calculations, imagining having four little boys, a husband away, a debt of $27 which meant no pay, which mean no food. One does not need to be an accountant or a business degreed person, or an executive director of an NGO to recognize this family needed more support. They were crossing the line into vulnerability and deep need. I whispered to Adelle to give her a bonus of $20.
Adelle explains to Malak that her debt is cleared. That she gets $1. However, Woven Dignity wants to give her more. She then hands her the $20 USD bill. The relief and joy that spread over Malak’s face was priceless. I wish words could convey the praise to God and to us that spilled from Malak’s heart. It will fuel my fire for weeks.
Soon after that we said our goodbyes. Malak followed us down those crumbling staircases. Adelle asked her where she was going? “To buy groceries!” was her delighted reply. The children called out from the window where they were watching their mom and Aunt, “Buy us ice cream!” To which she denied them, “Lah, lah, lah” (no, no, no).
By far, this is our neediest refugee family in Woven Dignity. Even though all our other artisans are poor, they seem well cared for in comparison. I cannot wait to go back and provide more support to these precious people. I am already imagining taking this family on little trips: exploring, green grass, soccer balls, ice cream, the beach, etc.
If you want to join me in supporting them, you can. You can support these women by sharing our mission, purchasing our cards, or donating. Thank you in advance.