When Youssef, a tailor from Aleppo in Syria, who is now a refugee in Yorkshire, learned about Covid-19 he knew his sewing skills could be of use. He is currently on World Jewish Relief’s Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) and approached his Employment Manager with an idea. He wanted to create a sewing group comprised of refugee tailors and seamstresses who could make PPE for people in need.
The idea took hold, and together with his Employment Manager from the programme, Katie who is based at the Refugee Council in Sheffield, they recruited Zaher, another Syrian tailor on the STEP programme and began running online workshops to teach 15 other STEP participants how to sew high quality protective face-masks.
As Youssef does not have access to a sewing machine, he has been hand stitching the face coverings. It takes him around 20 minutes to complete a mask. It’s a far cry from the wedding dresses he was once renowned for producing in Syria but he is just glad to be doing something that contributes back to the country he is now living in. He says “This is my profession, I have the know-how, I just want to be of use and to help others”.
Zaher, who has his own sewing machine, is equally committed saying “It is in my nature to help people. When Covid-19 hit, when I knew I could do something to help using my skills I didn’t hesitate. I try to help people. Even when I have problems I like to help others as it raises my spirit. I am not doing this for reward, I am doing this to help those in need. This community embraced us, gave us accommodation, school for our children, benefits for us. This is the least I can do”.
Over time, Youssef and Zaher have used their expertise to improve the design of their masks and determine the best fabrics to use. Now several weeks in, the group have produced over 50 high quality face-masks which they are donating to a care home in Sheffield.
Their dream is have access to more sewing machines so that they can increase production.
STEP is facilitating the online sewing workshops and providing the materials for making the masks.
As well as this voluntary sewing project, both men are continuing with their online ESOL classes provided by STEP, and are working closely with their Employment Managers on their journey to find work. Zaher hopes to get a position in security while Youssef dreams of having a clothes shop again.
The sewing group has also successfully produced scrubs which they are donating to care workers.
STEP is run by World Jewish Relief and delivered in partnership with Horton Housing Association, The Refugee Council, Coventry City Council, Business in the Community, The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network and the Stand Up and Be Counted Theatre Company.
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