The artisan, stitch-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

It's no secret that Lebanon is one of the countries with the largest influx of Syrian refugees. But with rampant racism and a harsh welcome, it isn't always a haven to arrive to. Thousands of Syrians arrive unregistered and aren't able to secure legitimate work and a source of income, and the overpopulated country currently has more labor supply than is required. 

Various organizations have tried to help, some on a large scale, like UNHCR, and many on a smaller scale, like Fajr Beirut - a creative team that works with Syrian women to create handmade, stitch-bound notebooks. They meet twice a week and create notebooks that are later sold in Lebanon and online. 

No, it's not a 9-5 job and no, it doesn't necessarily sustain a roof for all the women, but it's a source of income nevertheless. It's an effort, it builds some sense of community, and the result is notebooks that look almost as good as Moleskine ever did. Priced at $6 to $8, the entire profit goes directly to the women, which according to Fajr Beirut, have helped two families who were previously living under a bridge afford rent!

Fajr Beirut filled me in on their activities:

"Fajr Beirut started with a few friends reaching out to Syrian ladies on the street. Over the years, that led to relationships being formed, and the relationships led to a desire to start the notebook project. We rented out a small space and began inviting the ladies to learn how to bind notebooks. 'Oh no, we could never make something like that,' one lady said when we showed her a sample notebook on the first day. Over time, however, they learned and even began teaching us.

Fajr Beirut: The handmade thread-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

Fajr Beirut: The handmade thread-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

How it Works

Twice a week, we all meet to work, share a meal together, play with the kids, and chat. Although many of the ladies were slightly cautious of each other initially, a community slowly began to form, as did a sense of trust in each other.

A lot of laughter goes on during our time together, as well as rejoice when good news is delivered or a big sale goes through. Other times, tears flow as the ladies come with heartbreaking stories of death, sickness, harsh landlords, and injustice. 'At least I don’t have to go through all this alone,' one lady told us after passing through a frightening episode involving her son’s health.

Fajr Beirut: The handmade thread-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

The refugees involved are mostly widows struggling with providing for the needs of their children, all the while meeting the harsh demands of rent. They are willing to work and love the feeling of dignity that comes with earning an income. When we passed out their earnings at the end of the first month, the light in their eyes was undeniable. 'I earned this money out of the sweat of my own brow!' one woman exclaimed triumphantly.

Fajr Beirut: The handmade thread-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

The Notebooks

The materials used include: sheets of white or brown craft paper, colorful cardstock for the covers, and a needle and thread. The ladies count out and fold the papers, choose a cover, puncture holes, and sew it all together.

Where They're Sold

So far, we’ve found both local and international buyers. We currently sell the notebooks amongst friends, but also have a basket in Zanjabeel coffee shop in Hamra, as well as Younes cafe. We also ship boxes to interested buyers in the United States.

Fajr Beirut: The handmade thread-bound notebooks created by Syrian refugees

What's Ahead

As for the future plans of Fajr, well, we are definitely taking things one step at a time. We’ve been learning as we go along, but it’s been a beautiful journey. Although there are women we have had to turn away for logistical reasons, we hope Fajr will continue to grow so we can slowly accept more ladies."

Follow Fajr Beirut's updates on Facebook here

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