By: Mary Jarjour
Being the light for others – that’s a call from the Bible. In the midst of war and darkness, women in Damascus have taken this call seriously. Many refugee women today earn a living for their families from the “Hook and Thread” project.
I grew up in a family where both my parents were evangelists – they spent most of their lives travelling from one village to another all over Syria, spreading the word of God. After their work was done in one village, my parents used to pack everything and move to another place, restarting a life there and of course trying to establish a church in their new destination. They had one child in each of these villages and in total they had seven children. One can imagine how difficult this lifestyle was. Every time my parents had to start from new in these small, closed communities.
I learned how my mum shared with other families the small and little things she had. She preached and taught the women to pray and even some household skills such as knitting, sewing, first aid, cooking and baking. I will never forget when once she gave her beautiful knitted blanket to a poor family when their room was destroyed in a fire. We were used to host the poor, needy, lonely, foreigner and ill people at our house.
During the last seven years of war and terror in Syria, everything I have learned from my family I have brought to practice. In deed it has been the time to be the LIGHT against the culture of death that has surrounded us – there is no more peace and safety in Syria, lots of shooting, kidnapping, bombing and random rockets and mortar shells falling frequently in our neighbourhoods.
In the midst of all this danger we were encouraged to go and reach to people in need and displaced families and in spite of our modest help and facilities we said little is better than nothing. In addition, we were trying to carry some words of hope, and of course that required lots of patience and love. Our help in the beginning during 2011 was small including only some used clothes, blankets and kitchenware. At that time, we thought the war would not last long and would end soon. But unfortunately, things became worse and in 2012 many more people fled to Damascus from affected areas such as Homs, Daraa and Damascus outskirts. However, the number of these people was huge and the need was much more than the capacity.
Most of those who came to ask for help were women. In our culture, men are generally too proud to ask for help. I was so sad that we had no more sources even when we have support from the churches, family members and even friends. Then it crossed my mind that my sister long time ago managed to help a lady by teaching her knitting and then my sister sold this woman’s handiwork for her which gave her a regular income.
It hit me suddenly that we can maybe do something similar. This is how we started the “Hook and Thread” group with some leftover materials I had at home. We felt reminded of the Proverbs of Solomon about “A wife of noble character who can find? … She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. … And does not eat the bread of idleness. These Syrian women were so close to those described in the bible, they were hard-working, unselfish, helpful, and full of love. The first working lady was a widow called Antoinet who had three children and no income at all. From this stitching work, she managed to support her family, in total she did more than 1500 coasters.
Actually, the handiwork was not our concept but our aim was beyond that. It was reaching these families through their mothers, and daughters, trying to support them in all means spiritually, physically, economically and psychologically. After several months, this project became a beautiful group that meets once a week at my home, when I take the finished products from them and they choose new materials (different design patterns, coloured threads and cloths) for stitching. Some of the ladies come earlier, being super excited to show their beautiful handmade pieces and pick the nicest patterns to stitch more. Together we have coffee and sweets and then comes the most important part which is the bible study. Every week we choose one verse to memorise and encourage us.
These ladies became more interested and motivated to read in the bible. They found even more important support for their souls. Some of these ladies have lost in this war a family member or more. Each one of these ladies was given their own bible. One lady from a famous historical Aramaic Christian village called “Maaloula” told me it was her first time to read in the bible.
Now we have several groups in Hook and Thread and some are based in more popular areas in the outskirts of Damascus and even one group in a village called “Fairouzeh” near Homs city. All of these participating ladies work hard with love and dignity at their homes. They are able to provide for their families and contribute to the community and raised their self-esteem.
One inspiring story is from a girl called Tahani, who is a displaced girl from a very poor uneducated background. Her father used to lock her chained in her room and accuse her of having mental problems. He was also complaining about his family’s living cost. Tahani’s mother shared her story with one of the Hook and Thread ladies. This woman then offered to teach Tahani to stitch. Tahani learned very quickly how to stitch and made very nice pieces and at the same time she earned some money which pleased her father and made him even allowing her to go out and come to our meetings and participate in our bible study. Against a culture of violence, Tahani has again a chance to live free and enjoy life like others. Indeed, she has discovered life in fullness.
As well from the income of Hook and Thread, we have managed to help other families in need by providing them with food portions, medications, health care, school needs and even fees for educational courses. At the same time, we have the chance and ability to celebrate occasions with them such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter. We hold special activities for the ladies and their kids in collaboration with different Christian charity groups in order to help them overcome the fear, despair, sadness, death and dark surrounding circumstances.
Of course, we continue to pray and hope for the situation in Syria to change for the better, encouraged with this great verse from Romans 5: 3-5: But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (NRSV)
Mary Jarjour is a member of the Evangelical congregation in Damascus.
This article was originally published in the 4/2017 issue of Schneller Magazine, which can be found here: https://schneller-schulen.ems-online.org/en/#c846.