“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. We are growing.”

Drop Earrings, Not Bombs

 

The memory of bombs and gunfire still echoes loudly among the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. All refugees feel dis-empowered when forced from home, but none more so than women who come from a culture where they are often not allowed to work.

One group of refugee women has taken matters into their own hands. It is the first time some of them have ever had paid employment, and they have created a workshop to make drop earrings from wire and brightly coloured thread. We love their brand name: “Drop Earrings, Not Bombs”. It’s a heart-cry for peace, from some of those affected most deeply by the brutality of war. Their workshop is so much more than a place to earn income. It is itself a refuge: a place where they share their stories and encourage each other through their ongoing hardship. Their income is making a real difference to their families, covering, as they put it, “the monthly grocery expenses of a Syrian family here.” This way, women don’t have to ask for money from anyone when they’re shopping for food. As their Social Media powerfully puts it, “they tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. We are growing.”

You can purchase the beautiful jewellery from Drop Earrings, Not Bombs at our Global Handicrafts shop at Crossroads Village.

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As refugee families battle for survival with the ongoing conflict in Syria, education is one of the greatest casualties. While living in Syria, prior to the fighting, many refugees had professional careers and their children looked forward to the same. Now, however, gifted young people watch their career aspirations fade as education moves beyond their reach. The Basmeh and Zeitooneh’s Women’s Workshop in Shatila refugee camp trains 120 Palestinian and Syrian refugee women in embroidery and in crochet, allowing them an opportunity to sell their production and earn an income with dignity. This is allowing mothers to put their children in school. We are selling their embroidery in our marketplace. Every piece helps another woman and, very often, another child.

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At 13, Kareem, a thirteen year old Syrian refugee, was the sole breadwinner for his mother and sisters. He worked in a car mechanic shop, leaving home at 5.30 am and returning at 11 pm. This brought in US$7 a day. School, of course, was out of the question. His boss took advantage of the young boy, abusing him physically, emotionally, mentally and even sexually. He also ‘sold’ Kareem to other customers, at US$1 per time, for sex services.

When Kareem heard that the Refugee Run was to be held at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, he made one plaintive request:

‘When you meet with people there, tell them ‘Don’t let the world forget us.’

After the Refugee Run, many participants, deeply touched by the simulation, were wonderfully responsive. One, herself a refugee from the Lebanese conflict in 1982, took action. She raised funds to support education in Lebanon for hundreds of refugee children. Among those now in school, wonderfully, is Kareem.

Sometimes people ask the purpose of the experiential activities we run. The answer is simple. We want to reach participants so they, in turn, can reach those who are in dire need of support.

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It was the middle of the night when Muhammad heard the terrifying sound of rebels at the door. “They said, ‘Join us or die’,” he remembers.

Syrian_refugee

The scars still fresh on Muhammad’s shoulder bear witness to the savage beating that came next. The rebels destroyed his home and Muhammad (right) knew there was nothing but fear and death left if his family stayed in their homeland.

Muhammad, his pregnant wife and his three young children joined the ranks of Syria’s 2.5 million displaced people. They escaped in the night across the border to Lebanon.

“Two children froze to death today.” – Crossroads’ partner, Lebanon, on the harsh winter faced by Syrian refugees.

The family found their way to one of Lebanon’s informal tented settlements, where Crossroads’ David Begbie met him and heard his story. “A lot of these people came with some money,” David said, “but they’ve been living off their savings and most of their money is now gone.”

Most bring skills and ingenuity with them across the border, but aren’t permitted to take formal jobs in the community.  Muhammad himself, desperate to find something to bring in a little income, now collects plastic from around the muddy streets in his makeshift cart (below) to sell, but the family has no idea how long they’ll be living in this bare, cold, temporary home.

Syrian_worker

It’s hard to remember, looking at images of these ‘tent cities’ stretching as far as the eye can see, that each tent houses a family with its own specific and individual stories of terror, distress and loss like Muhammad’s.

When Harrow International School Hong Kong asked Crossroads how they could help Syrian refugees, we seized the chance to partner. Harrow gave a generous donation of funding and when we looked to our different partners in the region, we found one who was planning a campaign to give warm winter clothes and toys to 5,000 children in the freezing refugee camps but were looking for funding!

Syria_Harrow_Students

Harrow students rallied for the cause, sending messages of support to Syrian refugee families.

Fast forward to the end of December, and distribution of ‘winterization’ packs (below) to precious refugee children had begun.

distrubution_syria

“I wish you could have been there to see the distribution!” said one of our contacts. “It was like drawing a smile on the children’s faces.”

Younger children received not just warm clothes but a soft plush toy in the distribution. For some of them it’s the only toy they now own.

“We want them to know they’re not forgotten,” said our partners.

Click here to see Crossroads’ photo essay from the camps, with more stories from families and the people helping them.

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Each January, some of the planet’s most powerful corporate leaders gather in the small Swiss town of Davos to discuss how they can use their resources and influence to improve the state of the world. It’s the World Economic Forum, and this year, Crossroads was privileged to bring our Refugee Run to the event, giving participants a deep, though brief, experience of life as a refugee.

While we’ve been running simulations in Davos since 2009, this was the first year we were part of the official programme, giving us a new, unique opportunity to reach some of the world’s changemakers.

Refugee_run

We focused, in particular, on the escalating crisis in Syria and the plight of the refugees in the neighbouring countries. We brought aid workers from Jordan and Lebanon who spoke of the refugees they serve. Wonderfully, people of Syrian nationality attended too, including refugees.

simulations_Davos_2014_2

Those who took part in the experience ranged from the King and Queen of Belgium to leaders of multinational corporations, to Sheryl Sandberg (below), COO of Facebook, who spoke to the participants about ways to find peace in this troubled region.

simulation_famus_people

Many of the CEOs who attended were blinking back tears: people who are used to managing their international companies, but who found themselves feeling helpless and disempowered when confronted with the reality simulated. We had scores of comments that echoed one another’s themes.

‘I was skeptical but this simulation has been too powerful. Overwhelming. A call to action.’

‘A powerful way to seal our commitment to improving the world.’

‘Thank you for such an incredible and moving experience. I feel hugely compelled to take action.’ – Justin Keeble, Managing Director, Accenture Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

‘While it can never compare to real trauma/resilience of refugees, Crossroads has a chilling simulation at WEF.’ via Twitter, Robert Kauffman, International Relations and Strategic Partnerships, Int Fed Red Cross and Red Crescent

‘I did the Refugee Run in a past year and found it to be amazing and life changing.’ – Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikimedia

Company directors responded in many ways. Some spoke of renewed commitment to keeping factories open in the Syrian region so people could remain employed. Several offered to fund schools for refugee children in camps. One spoke of using the company’s solar technology to support the need for power in camps.

Raphael, former DR Congo refugee and now aid worker, shared his experiences and insights with participants.

The goal is, in a broken world, to be a crossroads: a place where those in need can be linked with those who can help. In Davos, we often feel that we speak to some of the world’s most powerful individuals on behalf of some of the world’s least powerful.

To see the full set of images from Crossroads’ Refugee Run in Davos, click here.

Want to book the Refugee Run for your organisation?

We’d love to talk! Click here or email life-x@crossroads.org.hk, or visit Global X-Perience for Crossroads’ full range of simulations, catering to a variety of individuals or groups.

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