Made by a revolutionary mother… “Do not give me a fish every day, teach me how to hunt”


Enab Baladi Issue # 109– Sun, Mar. 23, 2014

نجلاء الشيخ Najlaa Alsheikh

Lama Dyrani

A year ago, the Assad’s regime poured barrels from an aircraft on the city of Izaz in the countryside of Aleppo which led to a massive evacuation to “Kellas” the Turkish city. There, women stood in queues waiting for their portion of bread. Standing women flocked to take a pack of bread and many disputes happened. This situation had created a suffocating sense by “Najla” that her dignity was wiped out by the floor.  With her tears and jealousy on the dignity of the women of her country, she approached the women to tell them one word “we were not like that”.

From the “humiliating” queuing for the aid, the idea of “created by a revolutionary mother” was born. Sewing was the ambulatory solution that occurs in Najla’s mind. Najla was a Syrian revolutionary, her destiny is to evacuate to Izaz in northern Syria after the last invasion of Daraya. Her destiny drove her again to seek refuge in Turkey because of the barrels in Syria.

The first difficulty that faced Najla is the lack of sewing machines so she chose knitting, and she went to a Turkish neighbour to borrow 1,500 Turkish liras from him to buy wool. She gathered women who knew how to knit and they started working. She used to visit them every Saturday to check on their wellbeing and workflow but she noticed their great weakness that they suffer from. The idea of making an exhibition to sell products of these women will help them. They will feel important while they stand in front of their desks that are full of their products and handicrafts.

Najla did not want to empower women only financially but also psychologically. She used to talk to them about dignity and pride and she will repeat her saying that “Syrian women are full of pride” in a simple language that resembles their life styles. She was able to deliver her message to them, that from their work at home of simple handcraft they can live okay without leaving their children alone at home.

Hiroshima, Japan was the paradigm example for Najla. She told women how the Japanese were able to rebuild their country with small projects after a short period compared to the size of the devastation of atomic bombs, and her messages were more like alerts in women’s subconscious. Najla says: “in the very beginning, the women were ashamed to appear and talk to the public, and they used to vanish so they do not see any visitors. Now, after a year of launching the project and during the exhibition, women will feel sad if guests and media reporters talk to one without the other. What amazed me is that they talked about the Japanese experience and they compared it with their small practice to reconstruct the country”.

The change that happened to the working ladies in the project was “great”. Najla could not suppress her tears when she saw the power of their personalities. Their pride was very prominent during the exhibition that was held in Kellas on International Women’s Day, two weeks ago. The women did all of the woollen handcrafts, they did the logistics things, and even the hospitality was prepared by them.

Before the opening of the exhibition, Najla asked the women: will the exhibition be a “machination or a wedding?” The answer from everyone was: “wedding”. The aim of her question, she said, is to promote the principle of love and cooperation and deny the principle of “negative competition”.

Najla tells a story of a 12-year -old girl while she speaks to Enab-Baladi. She said that when a Turkish visitor tried to give this girl some money, she looked at him and told him “why did we do all of these handcrafts? Is it not to stop begging? If you want you can buy the pieces that I have done”. Najla also talked about the happiness of an old lady who was taking care of her weak husband through her work. This old lady kept smiling during the exhibition and when she was asked about the reason, she raised her thumb up and said “I put a dot in this life” later Najla discovered that this old lady meant a footprint.

According to Najla, the project, which began with twenty women, today includes 35 women, is suffering weakness in marketing as not all the products were sold during the exhibition, and she continued: “we decided to have the exhibition in the city of Gaziantep, but because of the emergent circumstances of the country and the elections, we were not able to make the exhibition widespread”. And because of the advent of summer, Najla is thinking to communicate with colder countries to sell the products there. She is also thinking about more sustainable projects such as recycling the worn stuff.

Najla is working on opening a centre that cares about the empowerment of the female refugees and raising their awareness despite the financial obstacles that are facing her. She aims to achieve the goal of “do not give me a fish every day, teach me how to hunt”.

Translated by: Ruba Al Jarf

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