Six years ago, emergency workers counseling refugee women in the former Yugoslavia sent out a red alert. The women, traumatized by war, would sit in silence during therapy sessions, opening up only when they had their knitting in front of them. When counselors sent out a call for yarn donations, they were flooded with offerings.
Within months, socks woven in traditional Balkan folk patterns began flying off the women’s needles as they progressed through therapy. This sparked an idea among a group of Bosnian women who asked themselves, why not sell the knitted goods to help lift women out of the economic devastation caused by the region’s many wars? And so Rainbow Socks was created. It’s an economic empowerment project that links refugee women in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with yarn donors who sell the women’s knitting abroad through a mail-order catalog.
Using the money she earned from knitting, Eva Urdum, a Bosnian refugee, was able to buy two breeding pigs, which provide a considerable boost to her beleaguered family’s assets. Together, Urdum and hundreds of other refugees from the former Yugoslavia have knitted more than a hundred thousand pairs of socks and booties for U.S. consumers and have recently added mittens and rugs to their product line.
The women say their craft has brought them together across religious and national lines to support each other after losing sons and husbands to war. “I can earn money and keep busy doing something I like. And I have made friends in the group,” says expert weaver Munira Mujn, a 55-year-old Bosnian Muslim whose handiwork has enabled her to rebuild her home in what is today Serb-controlled Bosnia. Urdum adds: “The money goes to those whom we love. And because those who buy the socks allow us to make a living, they are also those whom we love.”
To purchase Rainbow Socks or donate yarn, contact project managers Babbie and Stu Cameron È Rainbow Socks È 621 Temple Road È Wilton, Maine 04294 È (207) 779-1798 È firstname.lastname@example.org