In one of Greece’s bleak camps women are finding inspiration in the toughest of circumstances, reports Louise Court. And their Banksy-designed creations are on every Christmas gift wishlist
Locked down, in cramped and at times terrifying living conditions, a group of incredible women have been using their creativity to make a lifeline for them and their families. Having escaped from warzones and conflict points around the world they’re coming together at Ritsona refugee camp, just north of Athens, to create an extraordinary workshop making some of the most coveted Christmas gifts, such as the Banksy mat, designed, of course, by the elusive artist Banksy.
Creating a new life
As part of the Love Welcomes social enterprise they spend their days weaving and sewing to re-purpose blankets and life jackets washed up on the Greek beaches. All materials are thoroughly deep cleaned before, out of a sense of pride give the women give them an extra scrub to make sure they are beyond pristine. The iconic Welcome Banksy mat design is just one of the items helping give these refugees a sense of purpose.
Many of the women are emotionally and physically scarred by the terrifying journeys they made from war-torn countries. And many are still separated from loved ones. But each item they make helps them get one step closer to supporting their families, and bringing them vital supplies. The programme is also teaching them new skills and helping keep mental issues at bay – all caused by being trapped in a camp 24 hours a day.
Not just a life line
As well as the Banksy mat, that’s in such demand (there’s a waiting list of thousands that’s growing daily) they’re making rugs, cushions, furnishings and accessories. “These amazing women have taken blankets and life jackets that have, let’s not forget, many traumatic associations for them,” says Abi Hewitt, Love Welcomes CEO and co-founder. “These items represent their frightening journeys of escape but they’re transforming them into something so beautiful.”
As Banksy says: “The hard-wearing Welcome mat is hand stitched from life vests abandoned on the beaches of Lesvos by migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Customers are advised they no longer constitute a valid buoyancy aid – although shockingly they never did – many are cheap fakes sold by people smugglers and don’t actually float.”
‘This is really helping me’
Tanko Doris Laure, 28, who fled conflict in her home country of Cameroon, says the workshop is changing her life.
“I’m cutting blankets and life jackets, looming, sewing, and knitting,” says Laure. “I’d never heard of Banksy before but this now I’m making money is really helping me because I buy medicines and take care of my son. It’s very difficult living on the camp because there’s little hope and many people are traumatised. My only wish is to become a good citizen and live a good life.”
“In creating the Welcome Mat, Banksy has helped these refugees find self-worth, dignity and hope,” says Hewitt. “The other products do the same. They connect these women to the outside world. Living in a refugee camp shouldn’t stop their dreams. They are keeping hope alive. Each time you buy a Banksy mat or any of our products you’re supporting a refugee and their family as they begin to rebuild lives shattered by war, one stitch at a time.”
“We’ve seen a huge increase in sales during lockdown,” says Hewitt. “The lockdown has seen many of our supporters unable to leave their homes so they’ve had a small insight into the daily challenges of these incredible women.
“As a result, instead of shopping from sites where more and more products end up in landfill, people are shopping on our website. Everything on there is made not only from recycled fabrics but fabrics that tell these women’s stories. The creations are full of meaning. As Christmas gifts they carry so much symbolism.”
* Support the refugee women of Ritsona by shopping at Love Welcomes and sign up for the Banksy Welcome mat now