JOELLE dreams of moving to an island and discovering treasure on its shores.

The six-year-old’s imagination is an escape from the reality of the conflict she and her family fled to set up life in a new and unfamiliar country.

Her parents lost their jobs when they moved due to the war. They are keen for their four children to resume their studies and dream of creating a better future for themselves.

This family are among a number of crafters and creators involved in the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) project, MADE51(Market Access, Design and Empowerment) which is helping talented makers fleeing war or persecution achieve greater self-reliance and access to the global marketplace as well as retaining traditional crafts, preserving cultural heritage and indigenous techniques.

For many years Yorkshire designer, Aileen Brindle has worked with the fair trade sector, consulting to exporters and international development agencies. Two years ago she was approached by the UNHCR about the MADE51 concept.

Aileen began working with two groups of refugees displaced from Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sudan who are living in Kuala Lumpur.

“I worked in collaboration with a local social enterprise ‘Earth Heir’ to communicate and develop the ideas, with the aim of producing a marketable collection of products helping to create income generation opportunities for the refugees,” she explains.

After assessing the artisan’s skills it was decided to focus on cross-stitch embroidery which had a place in their heritage.

Initially working remotely, Aileen did get the chance to meet one of the refugee artisans on a trip to Kuala Lumpur in the summer.

“It was very humbling,” says Aileen.

She also met a family who had been forced to flee Afghanistan many years previously. Their children, who are now in their 20s, have had no formal education and while the woman and her husband were highly qualified psychologists in their home country, they had no rights to work where they were living now.

The woman,who was skilled at embroidery, contributed to the MADE51 project which launched its jewellery collection combining cross-stitch embroidery and silver and gold plated settings in February 2017.

Over the last three months Aileen has been introducing the artisans to a wider audience through her involvement with the Craft+Conflict touring exhibition by Highlights Contemporary Craft tour. The tour was a collaboration with artist and curator, Karen Babayan, who was born in Armenia but grew up and lived in Leeds.

Embroidered bangles which Aileen developed with refugee artisans in Malaysia as part of the MADE51 UNHCR project have since been selected for inclusion in the Ambiente 2019 Trend show in Frankfurt in February.

Now living in Timble having previously lived in Burley, Skipton and Ilkley, Aileen has also created her own designs including ‘narradores’ a storytelling silver jewellery collection she has researched and designed with the aim of expanding markets for artisans in Peru. She also runs the pop up concept F.o.a.k (few of a kind) collections.

Aileen is also hoping to help raise the profile of The Ana Collection. Based in Lebanon the initiative involving Syrian refugee women is about refugees helping refugees through the creation of colourful embroidered dolls telling the stories and aspirations of those forced to flee their homes. Each doll is given the name of a refugee and, once sold, the refugee benefits from part of the proceeds.

Also part of the MADE51 project are baskets created by refugees from Burundi living in Tanzania and supported by Womencraft. Interestingly, the material combination for the baskets uses 50kg sacks that are left over from food distribution in the refugee camp.

Says Aileen: “I cannot imagine myself designing, marketing products for the sake of it. It’s about the bigger picture and collaborating and trying to make a better world. It’s highlighting that there are people behind all of these products and actually being supportive of them.

“I get connected with people and their situation and that is what motivates me as well as beautiful crafting skills.”

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