We have often heard success stories of Syrian refugees in their various host countries, but the conditions of asylum differ from one country to another. In Lebanon, Syrians suffer from harsh conditions. In spite of this, people have achieved great success here.
When I moved to Lebanon I met one of these people, Alaa Alzohori, 26 years old, who founded a unique community environmental project. I was impressed by it, and I began helping them from time to time in selling products and photographing. Now I am excited to share this outstanding project through my Hands Up blog.
Here is Alaa’s story:
“I had to leave Homs with my family in 2013 and we came to Lebanon. I couldn’t complete my studies, so I volunteered with organisations and participated in several activities in theatre and filmmaking.
Then in 2016, I attended a workshop with my sister, Muzna, on project management, sponsored by UNESCO. We presented a project idea to recycle handmade woolen clothes, but it was not accepted in the workshop. Then through the trainer, we got to know a Lebanese doctor, Laila Zahed, who is focused on environmental issues. She suggested modifying our idea, using recycled plastic bags and crocheting them into useful items.
We ran an experiment with some women who crochet to make sure the idea could be implemented. We tried making small Christmas decorations, and the idea worked. Then we offered them for sale at fairs and markets. People loved them and they encouraged us to continue the project because of the waste crisis in Lebanon at that time.
After that, we developed the business and started making bigger pieces like bags, baskets, rugs, and toys. So the project began to gain fame, and many people started helping us to collect used plastic bags. We called our business Jellyfish because we save sea turtles from swallowing plastic bags that look like jellyfish.
What distinguishes the products is that they are made of used plastic bags that need hundreds of years to decompose, so the products are very durable. They are made in a crochet method, which makes them not only durable but elegant.
Of course, it is not without challenges. The company could not be licensed because of the decision to prevent Syrians from working in Lebanon. Therefore, there are difficulties shipping products abroad, so we use shipping companies and other international organisations that can bypass the restrictions. Recently, we faced several difficulties after the spread of coronavirus and the economic crisis in Lebanon, which limited our participation in markets and exhibitions and delayed our project development plans.
As for our biggest achievements, the project received two awards, through two competitions for Syrian entrepreneurs in the Middle East. The first is from COSV, an Italian NGO. The second is through the Startup Roadshow, which was organised by Jusoor and SPARK in partnership with Startups Without Borders. Here we got the chance to showcase our businesses on the global stage in Amsterdam, during the SPARK Ignite annual conference, and we won the title of Best Startup of 2019. Through these awards, we started working on expanding the team, licensing the company, and creating our own website.
As for the cost of products, each piece has a different price depending on its size and the number of hours required to make it.
Products can be shipped to the UK and to other countries. And they can be ordered through our social media pages, Facebook and Instagram, and soon through our website which will be launched before the end of the year.”