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A gem of an idea

AMWA helps Muslim refugee women become jewelry artisans

By Megan Smith –

At the beginning of the year the American Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) received a post on their Facebook page that an artist in Tucson was looking to donate raw stones and beads that could be used for fine jewelry making. For some, the suggestion might have had little meaning, but to AMWA, those stones and beads could help support families. AMWA jumped at the opportunity to acquire the materials.

The women of AMWA reached out to Donna Rae Watson, the artist, who offered to teach and guide them through the jewelry making process. They visited the Tucson Gem Show with Watson so she could give them pointers on what to purchase as well.
With that, AMWA began a program which provides semiprecious stones and beads to Muslim refugee women in order to create high-end costume jewelry. The women, new to the United States, often have few job skills. After learning the art of jewelry making, they can sell their creations for profit to supplement their income. In addition to providing beads and stones, AMWA also purchased tool kits for each of the women in the program. At first, the women are given cheaper materials such as copper wire and glass beads. Once their skills become more refined they are able to use silver. Silver is the preferred material for fine jewelry making.

Watson drove to Phoenix to assist in the training. Saba Khan, AMWA president, said, “She came to do a workshop at the Chandler Community Center, with two other helpers to teach and share information.”

Once the women start learning, they can figure out when they might be ready to set up their own shops or sell at organized events. The main goal is to be proficient so jewelry artists may also hire them. Training lasted about a month.

“This required a lot of planning and a lot of effort,” Khan said, explaining that the best way to proceed was to identify the women who were interested after the first workshop. “Not all women have the patience to sit and do it,” said Khan.

One woman that took to the skill was Fatima Amish. The AMWA volunteers, including some of the board members, even ended up going to Amish’s house to support and work alongside her, and all ended up learning some basic techniques.
For the first time the women’s work will be on display for profit at the upcoming AMWA Women’s Only Fundraiser Luncheon and Fashion Show on April 24. All of the profit they make goes directly into their pockets. This money will further fund their jewelry making careers.

Khan said her involvement with refugee families has only grown as she has taken on this larger role in AMWA. Her start in the community came in the form of encouragement from a friend at the mosque. She started visiting homes of refugee families and saw a need that had to be fulfilled. Khan said AMWA is geared toward helping “single moms who are here and have very young kids. Many do not have a skill or education. Empowering women means empowering families and we find a new skill for them.”

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