Fashion Workshop Demonstrates The Strength and Creativity of Women in Ritsona

Purposeful expression and momentum for the future

Take a minute and think about your closet. Does it make you anxious when you open the door, slide the curtain, open the suitcase? Is it a gateway to creative thought? Do you delight in the colors, textures and opportunity it evokes?

Now look at what you’re wearing today. Why did you choose it? Did you enjoy selecting it?

We’re privileged to be able to reflect on these things, and I’ve certainly exceeded the appropriate amount of time to psychoanalyze my own style and that of others. Perhaps not, though, because in the process of asking these questions, I’m figuring out who I am, who you are. Why we make the decisions we make, the realities of life that lead us there. What we wear, by choice or necessity, reflects our present conditions and emotional state.

Life in Ritsona camp is transitory, like a comma in the middle of a sentence. Lighthouse Relief’s programming and workshops function to make this moment of uncertain longevity, purposeful. Recently, a fashion and creative expression workshop provided women in camp with purpose for the present, and momentum for the future. When circumstances cannot be controlled, we must be armed for progress.

Ed sheeran plays softly in the background as we lay pillows on the ground and carefully arrange second-hand clothing on the table. For a few hours, glitter, glue, paint and sewing kits will provide an escape; a gateway into creative expression that is craved so deeply. Anrike Piel is leading the workshop and has been transforming the isobox into a haven for women in Ritsona camp for the past ten days.

The women enter slowly, eyes darting from object to opportunity. A sense of urgency progresses, as there is not an endless amount of time for them to conceptualize, design and execute their projects. Each day they expedite their entrances and take their seats, anxious to continue work from the day before. They ask for materials, more often than not in a language I wish I could understand. They use hand gestures to describe things like “elastic”, clinching an imaginary band and pulling it in and out, in and out.

Anrike Piel is using her dynamic skills as a fashion photographer in extraordinary ways. She defies safe, comfortable content by bringing the industry to people who, though they may have earlier in life, no longer have access. She is a platform for the brave women who, against all odds, emanate joy and beauty. She describes her experience working in fashion, and how it eventually led her to work in Lighthouse Relief’s YES (Youth Engagement Space) below.


Tell us about the workshop

The aim of the workshop is to empower and activate women residing in refugee camps. The waiting-game to build their lives up again is dreadful and easily leads to depression. Additionally, women are the most vulnerable ones in war and in camps. Girls often don’t want to leave their caravans as they don’t feel safe. So the workshop’s mission is ultimately creating a safe space for women to discover different forms of creativity. Whether using their own faces as canvas, renewing second hand clothing or creating accessories of recycled materials, the women are always learning new techniques and focusing on developing their own ideas and tastes. The workshop is about creating a space for women to enjoy themselves, have fun, loosen up and feel a sense of normality, which on its own generates more self-love by celebrating their femininity.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did it influence and inspire this workshop?

I left home at a young age, always working towards succeeding as a fashion photographer. That drive took me to many different countries and environments, introduced me to people from different walks of life. When the surroundings and different life events haven’t made much sense, I have always found support in creating. There’s something about seeing your visions come to life that makes one feel like nothing is impossible. The visions come from within which also focuses on self-love in my case. Having such a deep understanding how creativity has supported me throughout the years, I wanted to share that with the women in the camps.

What do you hope the women gain from this experience? What do you hope to gain?

Essentially, the workshops create a space where women feel safe and free. This works wonders for the individuals — empowering them, boosting self esteem. The workshop opens new ways for fantasy, brings peace, gives a sense of normality while teaching them new techniques to approaching creativity. Making a vision into reality also develops problem solving skills.

I myself am very passionate about justice for refugees and creating this work allows me to speak up for the people, raise conversations on the topics of politics and how the refugee situation has been dealt with, introducing a face of a refugee with a purpose to educate our society.

What’s next for you? Do you have plans to continue leading workshops like this?

The project so far has been successful and brought many smiles on the faces of the women. The feedback from the ones who have attended has been nothing but great. Some said it is the first time since reaching Greece that they are truly happy and excited. A father told me he hasn’t seen her daughters smile like this since the boat. Women in camp spend majority of their time in their caravans/isoboxes which proves the necessity for the females in the camp to have their own space where dreams are encouraged, so I will definitely keep growing it and taking it to further camps.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout the process of leading workshops like this?

The biggest challenge falls into the first weeks of management for the program — figuring out the age groups, how many people want to attend, what sort of groups to form and how to schedule effectively. It’s all that beginning management hustle that needs to be set so the space will be comfortable for everyone taking part. The workshops themselves have always found a great flow on their own and the women’s creativity evolves fast. It never ceases to amaze me.


The first days of the workshop focused on ideas and sketches of makeup and clothing. This was followed by days of sewing, glueing and painting. Six young women, two pairs of three sisters, signed up for the final modeling and photography session. Anrike photographed each of them individually, then in groups. It is difficult to find words that properly evoke the pride and strength the young women displayed while having their makeup and hair done by friends, and then wearing their own designs while modeling among dirt roads and what most would perceive as a povertous setting.

I spoke with Shilan (18, Syria) before and after her photoshoot. She describes her interest in fashion, day-to-day life in Ritsona, and how the workshop positively affected an otherwise mundane cycle.


What are the first things that come to your mind when you hear the word “fashion”

I feel like I am a queen. I love to put on new clothes and take photos. I feel like I am a beautiful girl and proud of myself when I am wearing fashionable clothing and makeup. I love that, I feel like I am a queen.

Shilan

Like you’re the best version of yourself?

Yes.

Did you make your shirt? It’s really pretty.

Yes, I made this t-shirt with flowers. I used a needle to sew them on. Me and Anrike also made a skirt with flowers.

So you made these pieces in the workshop?

Yes, but I didn’t finish so I took them home to work on them.

So the workshop is giving you things to work on at home as well as while you’re here?

Yeah, exactly.

Why do you like most about this workshop?

Learning to make clothes. Like the flowers, painting, things like that…

Would you attend other workshops like this in Ritsona?

Yeah, of course. I really enjoy it. I love this workshop.

What’s something else you would like to learn in a workshop like this?

I want to learn how to do my makeup. I don’t know how to do this very well, I always need someone to help me.

Tell me about your day yesterday.

Yesterday… yesterday was the weekend. When I woke up I helped my mom with breakfast. When we finished breakfast we went to my moms friends and talked with her a little bit and then we left. We came back to my house and I studied english. And then we cooked lunch, me and my mom and my sisters. We helped together to cook.

So you stayed in the camp all day yesterday?

Yes, yes I stayed all day because we can’t leave on the weekend. On weekends we don’t have buses that leave from camp. At night, me and brother studied german language.

Is that a typical day in Ritsona? Or I suppose It’s a bit different on the weekends?

We go to english class, usually. We go to friends or friends come to us. Sometimes we have tables of women and girls at night. We go to the tables and we sit or make tea with sunflowers. We sit for hours together.

And just talk, spend time together?

Yes, just talk. Because we have nothing to do.

Is that your favorite time of day, when you’re all together?

Yes its my favorite. And when I go to English class. One day by one day I learn more english. It’s very good to practice.

What kinds of things to do you enjoy doing?

I like reading english to practice more. And to swim! But we have no sea close, it is far, in Chalkida.

What do you hope to do when you leave Ritsona?

I hope to continue my english and I hope to study. I hope to learn german language but I think it is very difficult to learn. It is hard, yeah.

I hope me and my sisters will continue everything; writing, learning. Speaking a language well is important because sometimes when I go to the doctor I cannot find the translation and I cannot tell him my problem by myself.

Do you hope that this workshop will continue?

I would really love for this workshop to continue. I hope when I go to Germany I will find workshops there.

You said earlier that what you like most about fashion is the way that it makes you feel. It makes you feel strong and like a queen. Do you think you may want to study fashion so that you can help other girls feel that way too?

Yeah, I am strong. I hope for other girls to be as strong as me.

Through Lighthouse Relief’s resident volunteer program, Shilan hopes to help lead similar workshops during her time in Ritsona.


Take a minute and think about your closet. Do certain pieces take you back to a place, to a moment, to a feeling? Every period of life matters; where you have been, where you are, and where you are going. Through your support and the efforts of Lighthouse Relief, we can improve what feel like endless days of waiting for women in Ritsona. My hope is that one day, whether in 6 months or 6 years, these women will have something tangible that takes them back to Ritsona; a testament of their bravery and a reminder of their strength.

If you have a workshop or creative idea that you would like to share with the Lighthouse Relief Team, please contact volunteers@lighthouserelief.org

For long-term volunteer and internship opportunities, please visit https://www.lighthouserelief.org/volunteer/

Photographed by Lydia Duquette