How refugee women in Bulgaria are finding a creative outlet

Arts and crafts workshops in Bulgaria are providing women with opportunities to learn new skills and create products that they can sell or use in everyday life.


Women participating in these workshops have mastered sewing, knitting and embroidery at the Harmanli Reception Center's Afghan refugee school and Caritas’ St. Anna Center for Refugee and Migrant Integration. They also put their entrepreneurial skills to work when they sell their handicrafts at events such as Christmas markets.

“I like being here. I can learn new techniques, talk with women and feel useful. This work makes me focus on what I do and forget the worries,” one of the workshop participants said.


Saleha (pictured above) has managed the Afghan refugee school from the very beginning with the help of other teachers, arranging recreational activities to share her knowledge and skills with asylum-seekers.


The sewing workshop is an integral part of the Afghan school where some female participants also take classes in languages, math, biology, geography and arts.


The Afghan school recently started marking their products with a stamp they received from the International Organization for Migration. Women use their imagination and experience to come up with creative dress designs and sometimes search the internet for inspiration.

Harmanli-5 Photo © Lydia Staikova

The women take sewing lessons at the center almost everyday, and now have the capacity to teach younger students. Local volunteers help asylum-seekers to find fabrics, sewing handbooks and machines.

Harmanli-7 Photo © Lydia Staikova

These beautiful dresses, mostly made of cotton and sometimes viscose, are the result of the female designers’ hard work and creativity. The women hope to someday reach a wider market and sell their products online.


Many women also take arts and crafts workshops every week at St. Anna Center for Refugee and Migrant Integration where they recycle old t-shirts into yarn.


They first carefully cut the fabric into identical strips and then attach these strips to each other.


They use these strips as regular yarn to make baskets, bags and other colorful handicrafts.

Art-workshop-4-1 Photo © Caritas Sofia

The women form strong bonds during their sewing sessions, and now also attend events and learn about Bulgarian culture together outside of the workshop.

Art-workshop-8 Photo © Caritas Sofia

Women in St. Anna Center embroider and sew in addition to knitting, and usually sell their products at holiday markets. Recently, they made a whole basket of stylish lavender bags.

Art-workshop-9 Photo © Caritas Sofia

Thumbs up to all the women using their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to make their worlds a little brighter.

If you are in Bulgaria and interested in taking part in similar workshops, contact Caritas' St. Anna's Center.

Not in Bulgaria? Send us a message on Facebook and we'll try to help you find a workshop near you.