The Creative Women’s Group, also known as Women to Women, uses art as a way to facilitate the two-way integration in Croatia with a focus on refugee and asylum seekers. Providing a space for women to come together without the men and children can help to ease their burden while helping build strong ties within the refugee/asylum seeker community and with others in Croatia—from women to women.
The idea of the project is to create a safe and intimate space for women to exchange ideas, problems, solutions or simply to spend time together away from the stress and pressure of living in constrained spaces with an uncertain future in reference specifically to the refugee women. It also provides intercultural exchange through community- and peace-building opportunities with a chance to also improve their livelihood.
Each week Živi Atelje DK hosts women whose journey has brought them to Zagreb to meet and participate in various artistic activities from ceramics, knitting, crocheting, sewing, painting, drawing, jewelry-making and other arts including art therapy.
Once a month an excursion or gathering called Women to Women, is organized to involve more women from Zagreb to get to know women from the refugee and community. The excursions, within Zagreb and its immediate surroundings are to take place outdoors or in parks, or at events such as exhibitions, to open up the group and provide further opportunities for multifold integration. In March 2017 we had our first major gathering with women who want to make Zagreb their home and those who already call Zagreb home when about 100 women came together for a gift exchange and a celebration. We had a second gathering in November 2017 when women from Zagreb opened their kitchens to cook together with their partners before sharing the food and a party with the rest of the group.
Refugee women come from various parts of the Middle East, North Africa, West Asia and Europe and gatherings often include at least four languages including Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Turkish.
Furthermore, though the project itself is organized and run by Živi Atelje DK, many volunteers have come to help whether as individuals or affiliated to different organizations including the Dobrodošli Initiative, Are You Syrious, and Mali Zmaj. The project itself is a show of successful cooperation among civil society members.
In 2017, the No Borders project was honored with a grant by a coalition of local organizations in their Dobri Domaćini (Good hosts) campaign. The women’s group received special recognition as one of the projects throughout Croatia to get the financial support to take us to the next step. A special thank you to Dobrodošli! (Welcome Refugees), Are You Syrious?, Koalicija Solidarnosti Split and SOLIDARNA (Foundation for Human Rights and Solidarity).
Asylum seekers and refugees live in uncertainty about their status, their family and friends in their country of origin—the one they were constrained to leave—and their future. Given the fluctuating political and economic situation in Croatia and Europe, and the strengthening of the position held by many that more borders, control and deportations are needed, anxiety about the future is great. All together the atmosphere of uncertainty and fear adds to the stress refugees and asylum seekers feel and can complicate integration during their time in Croatia.
Furthermore many people within the refugee and asylum seeker community are dealing with prolonged traumas from what they survived in their home country and/or during their journey to Europe. Lack of care is sometimes due to language barriers, resources and missing set of skills among those who do speak their language. Untreated traumas in turn can cause longterm physical and mental health complications (even for health professionals aware of the consequences). The trauma often spreads beyond the individual to the family and immediate community, causing social and integration problems and others including domestic violence and substance abuse among others.
The gathering in and of itself, provides further opportunities to better know oneself, face ones prejudices and improve community relations. The gathering also is a step toward healing invisible wounds whether formally through art therapy or informally in the sense of creating a secure and intimate space for women to express themselves and to help each other. The gathering helps with individual empowerment, so that a woman is dealt with as an individual rather than as part of a larger group of foreigners in Croatia or as a wife/mother in a family component.
Next step of the Creative Women’s Group
The reach and scope of the gatherings depend on available resources. Up to now individual donors have given the generous resources of time and materials for the workshops.
One idea is for some of the sessions to be dedicated to making art and crafts that can then be sold the profits of which would be shared between the women and to the project to be able to continue. One of the goals is to be able to have enough resources to be able to purchase quality materials.
The sale of goods can further empower the makers in their ability to contribute in the improvement of their financial situation. The sale of goods at special events such as fairs can also provide further opportunity to interact with the greater public and help to demystify and break down prejudices people have of one another.
Women asylum seekers are encouraged to teach their skills in various art forms such as in dance that happens on a weekly basis.
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