News / Toronto

How one group of Syrian refugee women give back to the community through knitting

The group worked on handicraft project for the past three months, and will donate the items to North York Women's Shelter.

Siham Abo Sitta is leading a group of Syrian newcomer women using handicraft skills to help their integration in the city.

Eduardo Lima/ Metro

Siham Abo Sitta is leading a group of Syrian newcomer women using handicraft skills to help their integration in the city.

A group of Syrian refugees have found a new way to knit themselves into the fabric of Toronto.

Through the Artisans of Syria initiative, a group of 20 Syrian women have spent the past three months knitting scarves, change purses and bookmarks.

They often sell the items they make, but on Thursday, they’ll be donating them to women living at the North York Women’s Shelter. It’s a show of solidarity and way to say thank you to the city that welcomed them with open arms as refugees.

“We know we all face the same challenges as women,” said Siham Abo Sitta. “This is something we made with our own hands, and we hope the items are helpful to other Canadian women.”

The conflict in Syria has taken a devastating toll on Sitta and the other women working on the project. Her husband was killed in the war, and she lived in refugee camps inside Damascus and in Lebanon before a Toronto church sponsored her and her two children.

Most of the knitters are based in Mississauga, where the majority of government-sponsored newcomers are housed, but Artisans of Syria is looking to expand to other parts of the GTA.

The non-profit Refugee Career Jumpstart Project helped launch the artisan initiative, with the aim of having female newcomers support each other as they integrate into the city.

“I can see the smiles on the faces of these women,” said Sitta, noting the initiative helps participants find purpose and make some money while they struggle to get established in Toronto.

“We now feel like part of this society, not strangers,” she said. “We all belong here and can contribute.”