Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageTailor of Tigray mends Ethiopian refugees' clothes and hearts

By Serene Assir (AFP)     Dec 10, 2020 in World

Thousands of people fled war in Ethiopia with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Now in Um Raquba camp in neighbouring Sudan, dozens of destitute refugees from the fighting in the northern Tigray region flock each day to Omar Ibrahim's makeshift tailor shop.

Using a foot-powered sewing machine he rents from a local villager, Ibrahim helps fellow refugees recover from the horrors of war and forced flight -- by making them new garments and mending the holes in their old ones.

"I came here a month ago" from the Tigray town of Humera, Ibrahim tells AFP as he sews a new red and white cotton dress.

"I had nothing with me, and nothing to do. Sitting idly would never have helped improve my situation, so I decided to do the only thing I know: sewing."

- 'Came here with nothing' -

Ibrahim explains that he struck a deal with a Sudanese villager in Um Raquba. In return for the use of the rusty sewing machine, he hands half of his profits to its owner.

Working with a rented sewing machine in a lean-to workshop of canvas and brush  Ibrahim says he is m...
Working with a rented sewing machine in a lean-to workshop of canvas and brush, Ibrahim says he is much happier now that he is no longer idle and can provide a service to fellow refugees in need
YASUYOSHI CHIBA, AFP

"Now, I am happier than when I arrived," says the 25-year-old tailor, who owned a shop in Humera equipped with three sewing machines.

In his hometown, he specialised in making clothes for women.

In Um Raquba camp, a sprawling refugee settlement that the UN says currently houses some 13,000 refugees, he mends and sews new clothes for men, women and children.

"When I give people new clothes to wear, they feel happy, because they came here with nothing," says Ibrahim, who keeps a tailor's white measuring tape around his shoulders.

Despite the pain and loss he has suffered, he remains driven by a belief in self-reliance and the importance of serving his community.

"When you do good things for people, you receive good things from the world," he says.

- 'One people' -

Some 49,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government launched a deadly offensive against the Tigray region's ruling party on November 4.

Many of Ibrahim's customers simply do not have the means to pay him for his services  so he cha...
Many of Ibrahim's customers simply do not have the means to pay him for his services, so he charges according to their means
YASUYOSHI CHIBA, AFP

Living in a string of camps dotted along Sudan's border with Ethiopia, most of the refugees must rely on aid to survive.

Many simply do not have the means to pay Ibrahim for his services, so he charges according to their means.

"If they can afford to pay me, I charge them. But if they don't have any money I help them free of charge," he says. "We are all one people."

As he uses the pedal to power his sewing machine, Ibrahim describes his final days in Humera.

"There was so much bombing, and there were many dead we couldn't bury," says the tailor.

Now, in Um Raquba, he worries for his elderly parents who decided to stay behind in Humera.

His work as a tailor helps him both to earn a living and to fight his sadness.

"I am no better than anyone else. I have to work to earn a living. Thank God I am alive. I saw so many dead bodies," he says.

- 'He helps people' -

Ibrahim's attention turns to Salam, a 25-year-old mother of three who arrives at the shop with a pair of jeans for her nine-year-old son Emmanuel that needs mending.

Ibrahim is among 49 000 Ethiopians the UN says have sought refuge in Sudan from the fighting in the ...
Ibrahim is among 49,000 Ethiopians the UN says have sought refuge in Sudan from the fighting in the neighbouring Tigray region, many of whom are completely dependent on emergency aid
YASUYOSHI CHIBA, AFP

The shop's entrance is through a curtain made from an old grey cloth. Like many of the shelters the refugees live in, the ceilings and walls are built from plastic sheeting and brush.

With her younger son Eyoub strapped to her back in a cotton scarf, Salam tells AFP that the jeans are her eldest son's only trousers.

"I came here to fix them because there is a hole in them," she says.

"We fled Tigray to save the children's lives. But we have no other clothes to wear apart from the ones we have on. I have to fix these trousers so my son can wear them."

Ibrahim mends the hole in a matter of minutes, and charges Salam 50 Sudanese pounds (20 US cents).

Salomon, a 29-year-old man in a dusty grey T-shirt and jeans, praises Ibrahim for his work.

"He helps people," Salomon says, adding that were it not for the refugee tailor, many would have nothing to wear at all.

"He makes our garments good again."

More about Ethiopia, Conflict, Sudan, Tailor
More news from
Latest News
Top News