For some, knitting is a hobby, a timeless activity that has been passed on by older generations. But to the refugee women in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp of Northern Syria, it has become their livelihood. The hand-knitted and embroidered products that embellish the website of Tight-Knit Syria (TKS) have provided the women with a source of income, helping them become independent and productive members of their society. The financial independence, however, isn't the only aspect of the project that makes Dana Kandalaft, founder of Tight-Knit Syria, gleam with pride.
"Being creative is helping these women with their mental state. It’s helping them emotionally and psychologically because when they’re making and creating something, they’re able to channel all their trauma and negative energy into these pieces,” said Kandalaft.
Kandalaft’s initiative, Tight-Knit Syria, was born four years ago as a non-profit organization that provides women in Syrian and Lebanese refugee camps a platform to share their stylish hand-knitted creations. Vests, bags, coasters and more—the women’s intricate designs have found a new home in the houses of many across North America.
To celebrate the stories of these women and to showcase the artistic side of Syria that the media often misses, Tight-Knit Syria, in collaboration with the leading consulting agency, Emerston Group, introduced “But Syriaously;” a night of Syrian film, fashion and food.
“I want to see my people, to feel alive again and to hear the Arabic music. I want to feel home,” said Manar Fayoumi, a Syrian newcomer, in anticipation of the event.
But Syriaously was held last Tuesday at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in the Annex, where each corner of the ground floor, similar to what one would see at a bazaar, presented a different angle of Syrian culture that was sure to promise an eclectic experience to every participant.
“Storytelling is going to be quite a theme today,” said Kandalaft as she took to the stage to introduce herself and share the origin story of Tight-Knit Syria. "I want you to have one-on-one interactions with the participants in the event, who a lot of them are Syrian newcomers, so they have really in-depth stories to share with you.”
Manya Elendari, one of the Syrian newcomers and vendors in attendance, showcased a beautiful variety of colourful hand-knitted wallets, bags, clutches and cushion covers at the artisanal marketplace. The textiles were a product of Sabbara, an organization she founded in 2011. With a similar mission to Tight-Knit Syria, Sabbara is a social enterprise that provides economical, psychological and social support to Syrian women who were internally displaced by marketing their products inside and outside of Syria.
“Sabbara has many meanings,” said Elendari. “Sabbara is a place in Damascus, a cactus plant that has lived through difficult circumstances and it is also used to describe a patient woman.”
The night also featured Syrian-Armenian artist, Razmig Bartizian, who was live-painting a new piece as a raffle prize to a lucky winner.
To get a taste of what Syria has to offer on the other side of the room, Beroea Kitchen prepared a widespread selection of Aleppian hot foods, salads and cake bites. “I believe that a person who is born in Aleppo has a love of food in their genetics,” said Amir Fattal, founder of Beroea Box, in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “If you test their blood, you will see their love of music and food.”
But for Manar Fayoumi, it was the creative workshop that caught her attention. In an enclosed space near the stage, a few Syrian newcomers were teaching participants how to crochet a snowflake.
"I sat beside one of the ladies who was knitting and I told her that I know how to knit, but I only wanted to watch her because she reminded me of my mother in Damascus,” said Fayoumi.
Towards the end of the night, performer Tarek Ghriri lulled the audience with a tango-flamenco
guitar performance. He was soon joined by Nour Ka'dan who played the cajón and together, the duo composed an upbeat rendition that left guests belly dancing their way through the song.
A night of celebrating Syrian-Canadian culture concluded with a round of raffle prizes including a weekend pass to the Syria Film Festival, a scarf from Tight-Knit Syria, treats from Healthy Genie, as well as Razmig’s art piece.
When Kandalaft decided to hold But Syriaously, she hoped for the event to stimulate dialogue between Syrians and non-Syrians.
“Culture is a language that resonates with everybody,” she said. “Everybody loves food. Everybody loves music. Everybody loves art. Using those artistic aspects of culture to send messages through and to get stories heard can be really effective and I really wanted people to walk away feeling inspired.”
Nigel Oliveira, president and founder of Emerston Group, encourages people to take change into their own hands.
“Even in the face of overwhelming thoughts, each one of us has the responsibility to do something and make a change. By doing this event, we wanted people to see the different side of Syria that they’d typically see,” said Oliveira, further hoping that the attendees will engage with each other.
“Change is going to happen when somebody from Syria meets someone from Canada and they just talk about their lives, what they have in common, what they like and don’t like. We just hope we did a little bit of that and it seems like we have."