Local Syrian Seamstress Gives Back

Elaine Wanderer
3 min readMay 28, 2020

Amina’s Alterations is open for business. This one statement reflects a very long journey for one resilient woman from Syria who escaped violence and persecution.

Amina Ahmad wearing one of her masks

Amina Ahmad and her family left their hometown of Aleppo during rampant bomb attacks not far from their home in 2012. They fled to Malaysia, where they were unable to gain legal status. Therefore, Amina and her husband could not work, and their three children could not go to school. There was a center where they were able to access classes for their children and other support resources, but their five years in Malaysia were challenging.

Amina had been a seamstress back in her home country, both independently and as a manager in a clothing store in Syria, where she oversaw the work of 40 women. “Syrian women don’t work outside the home after they get married,” Amina said. “Being a seamstress was a job I could do from home.”

In 2017, they were able to come legally as refugees to the U.S. They were resettled by the government resettlement organization HIAS in White Plains, NY. The three children integrated into the public school system rather quickly, and both parents went to work.

Soon after Amina arrived in the U.S., she started Amina Alterations. Before COVID-19, she had steady business from the local community, which includes people in nursing homes, which she visited frequently. When activity slowed down due to the coronavirus, Amina was unsure of what to do to bring it back. But rather than sit around waiting for that to happen, she joined forces with a local humanitarian group called Neighbors for Refugees (NFR) who had started a mask-making effort. The organization raised funds to pay her and other refugees to sew thousands of masks for local health care workers.

This work came at a critical time for all: healthcare facilities were in great need of the protective masks, and the refugee families were facing severe financial pressures as work for their community began disappearing. Doing this work was empowering and helped make these women, some who had only recently arrived in America, feel productive and independent.

“I would have done this work for free,” said Amina. “I know how important it is.”

At the same time, Amina began to get requests from clients and businesses for masks. So she hired some of the women from the mask-making effort to help her produce masks for everyday use. The masks they make follow CDC guidelines and are high-quality, all-cotton masks designed for people who work in restaurants, healthcare centers, and individuals for walking around town or heading back to work.

“I need to sell more masks. If I get more business, I can hire other refugees,” said Amina. “This helps us all survive in this situation. It’s hard because we don’t have perfect English — but this is something we can do.”

People can directly order masks from Amina at AminasAlterations.com. Shipping is included.