Refugees are close to our hearts at Otter Pass. We’ve been friends with refugees for a decade; we started a nonprofit for years working with Burmese refugee artisans in Austin. Jessica is currently writing a book about two former refugee women and the history of resettlement in the United States for Viking Press. We count former refugees as some of our closest friends.
One of our core values is to provide jobs for refugees at every stage as we grow. But of course, growing enough to provide jobs takes time, and we’re just beginning our company.
That’s why, when our friend Corie Humble of Circle & Line Design (the intrepid designer of all Otter Pass products) asked for help finding artisans who could work with her on her latest order for Anthropologie, we were so excited. We connected her with some of our dearest friends, former refugees from Syria, to make her one-of-a-kind mobiles.
For their safety, we cannot show you their faces or tell you their names. They have relatives who are still living in danger in their hometown in Syria. Jessica wrote down their story last year for Vox using the pseudonyms "Nadia and Mohamad al-Moualem." “Nadia” told Jessica her story through translation, how they survived the beginning of the war in Syria, and what it was like for "Mohamad" to live through the missile attack that destroyed their home:
One night, a missile struck our home while Mohamad was there sleeping…Mohamad almost died; it was a miracle he did not. The missile carved out his entire left knee, took a chunk out of his right arm. The emergency responders rushed him across the border into Jordan. We eventually found him. One of the doctors helped us save his arm and leg, but the surgeries were complicated and painful. The healing took several months. He will have severe pain for the rest of his life. He will never work again.
Their story is worth reading in its entirety. What we found so inspiring about it, looking back, is the fact that “Mohamad” would never work again. That was not something any of us questioned.
Together with Corie, they’ve proven that statement false. For the next month, this couple will work side-by-side with one of our favorite designers to fulfill orders in a work environment that allows Mohamad to earn money without concern for his disability.
These two people have shown such remarkable courage. They continue to bless us with their generosity and wisdom. They have become like family to us. We would love to employ them and their friends someday at Otter Pass; until then, we will support the wonderful school where “Nadia” is learning English, since 10% of Otter Pass products will always go toward helping refugee nonprofits in Austin like iAct.
And we will forever be grateful to Circle & Line for giving them the gift of good work. For “Nadia” and “Mohamad” and many of the people we know, charity is only good for a very short time. Jobs bring dignity and respect; they allow people who have gone through some of the worst tragedies in human history to find hope. And they give them access to the kinds of communities that help them heal after years of war.
Connecting refugees to work and community will always be one of our company’s core values. This holiday season, it seems especially appropriate. We’re grateful to all of you for helping us as we begin and for partnering with us as we move toward the time when we can provide good jobs for our refugee friends. And we're deeply grateful to Circle & Line for doing that crucial work now.
Check out Circle & Line mobiles at their website or Anthropologie! Remember that 10% of every Otter Pass purchase will always go to helping refugees in Austin—free shipping ends on Friday, December 15, so order today to give someone you love high-quality products that give back!
(Image Sources: Corie Humble, Circle & Line Design; "La Lune Mobile" image from the Anthropologie website)