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~ GAIA Goodness ~

The Right Mother's Day Gift for Every Mom

Mother’s Day is around the corner, and you know what that means: time to find something pretty for your sweet momma. And GAIA's got all the moms covered.

Handmade products that support refugee women rebuilding their lives through meaningful work ring true with every type of mom — from crunchy do-gooder to corporate maven. Your mom is sure to take one look at the gift you give and know that she raised you right!

To make it easy on you, here are our recommendations for four types of moms, as well as a few of our favorite parenting books, since substance is just as important as style.

Earth Mother

Not only do her GAIA goodies help her go green, but they gather her granola and paraben-free lip balm so she can focus on composting and tree-hugging. Jessica Teich's Trees Make the Best Mobiles reminds moms to focus on being in the moment with their children and that kids don't need a bunch of "stuff."

 

GAIA Mother's Day Gifts

Posh Mom

Never without her shades or Chanel — or her chic GAIA purses to pull it all together. Meanwhile, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, keeps her grounded, showing her that sometimes less really is more — especially when it comes to raising kids.

 

GAIA Mother's Day Gifts

Mom Boss

She just poured herself another cup of ambition. GAIA pouches help a Type A momma stay organized so she can lean in in style. And because she knows that today's leaders are responsible for growing the leaders of tomorrow, she'll be excited to read Nina Tassler's collection of advice from powerful moms to the next generation of women, What I Told My Daughter.

 

GAIA Mother's Day Gifts

Sporty Mom

You can find her in the club — the country club, that is. GAIA bags hold her tees on the links and keep her cool by the pool, where you might find her reading Love Lives Here, Maria Goff's book on living a life driven by meaning, intention, and even whimsy.

Shop for your mom now!

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GAIA Refugee Mamas Share Their Thoughts for Mother's Day

GAIA Moms

Mother’s Day is right around the corner, and at GAIA we have lots of mammas. Most of the refugee women who make our purses, pouches, and other accessories are also raising littles.

Though they come from all over the world, they share an extraordinary resilience, strength, bravery, and commitment to making a better life for their children. They also share a universal perspective: Regardless of a woman's cultural background, language spoken, country of origin, or religious beliefs, being a mother is a universal experience that transcends boundaries. 

We believe that moms make the world go 'round, and we know that the challenges all mothers face can be multiplied when a mom is displaced from her home and finding her footing in a new country. We also believe that sharing the joys and difficulties of mothering with one another is helpful, so we asked our refugee artisans and apprentices to tell us a bit about their experiences since coming to the United States.

 

GaIA Refugee Women Feza

 Feza, Congolese Refugee and Mother of Three

Being a mother in the refugee camp was difficult because we didn’t have money to buy our kids what they needed, and they were bored all the time. Here in America, if they need something, I am able to buy it for them with my earnings. In fact, I just bought a house with a yard! Plus, my kids are much happier now because they have more to do and can go to school. 

 

GaIA Refugee Women Bothina 

Bothina, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Two 

My job as a mother changed when the crisis in Syria began. I had to protect them and keep them safe both physically and psychologically. I had to be there for them, to be strong in spite of our circumstances. I am so happy that they are now getting to grow up in the U.S. We’ve been here a year, and it’s been incredible to watch them evolve. Now my challenge as a mother is making sure they are integrating into American culture while also staying connected to their Syrian heritage. 

 

GAIA Refugee Women Huda

Huda, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Three 

We have a very happy family. I tried to raise my three children to be loving and tolerant of others. Because of the conflict in Syria, I haven’t seen two of my children in more than four years. One of my sons is in Germany. My daughter is in Turkey with her husband and a little granddaughter, whom I have never met. I have applied for a green card and am waiting on that. It will allow me to travel to visit them. I am happy that my son, Tamam, and his family are here in the U.S. with me and my husband. I don’t know what I would do without them. (Editor’s note: Bothina is Huda’s daughter-in-law.)

 

GAIA Refugee Women Catherin

 Catherin, Burmese Refugee and Mother of Four

My children have many more opportunities here in the U.S. than they had in the refugee camp. In the camp, they couldn’t learn a lot, so it would have been hard for them to become what they want. But here, they can become anything if they work hard. Last fall, I became a U.S. citizen. I did that mainly so that my children — Bambina, 14; Basolus, 10; Christopher, 6; and Juliana, 2 — would be U.S. citizens and have even more opportunities. (Editor’s note: When a parent becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, that parent’s children also become naturalized citizens, as long as the children are under the age of 18, have green cards, and live with that parent.)

 

 

Kholoud, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Six

After we fled Syria, we spent three years in Jordan. Only one of my children was able to go to school there. That was difficult, so I am happy now that all my children are in school. I love watching them learn and grow into the people they want to be. Being a mother can be overwhelming at times, of course, especially because Western culture and traditions are all new to us.

 

G

Gul, Afghan Refugee and Mother of One

I absolutely love being a mom to 2-year-old Amina. We love America, our family, learning English, and working! I am so fortunate that my own mother is here in the United States with us. She is deaf and we communicate through a sign language that we created on our own.

 

GAIA Refugee Women

 Narges, Afghan Refugee and Mother of Two

In Afghanistan, the schools are not great. The economy is not great. I am happy that I can raise my children here in the United States because I have big dreams for them! I want them to go to college and be doctors or engineers. Their opportunities for success are so much greater here!

 

GaIA Refugee Women

Izdehar, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Four

My favorite thing about being a mother is the perspective that it gives me on life. Having children helps me realize what’s really important in the world, and knowing that my children depend on me helps me stay strong when things get tough.

 

Ga

Esraa, Syrian Refugee and Mother of Four

The biggest thing for me is that motherhood has really helped me appreciate my own mother! (Editor’s note: Esraa is the mom on the left.)

Sarah, Iraqi Refugee and Mother of One

I feel like my role as a mother to Jenna, who is 3, is the most important role I will ever have. I believe that a loving and supportive mother can make the whole family strong. What's difficult for me right now is being a daughter. My mother is still in Iraq, and she is very ill. I can’t help care for her or even hug her. And I don’t know if I will ever get to do those things again. (Editor’s note: When we interviewed Sarah for this story, she could barely talk through her tears. Her heart breaks knowing that she may never see her mom again.)

 We wish these mamas — and all mamas around the world — a Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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Bothina Goes to Washington

Bothina Goes to Washington

“Members of the press are invited to join Congressman Marc Veasey, TX-33, and Bothina Matar, a Syrian refugee who resettled in the Dallas area with her family in 2015, as they share their thoughts on President Trump’s restrictive immigration policies and detail the positive contributions refugees make in their adopted homes.” Thus read a press release issued by the office of Congressman Veasey in late February.

The congressman’s office reached out to Bothina, who has been working at GAIA since 2016, and her husband on the recommendation of the International Rescue Committee after President Trump issued an executive order in late January reducing the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States in 2017 to 50,000; suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days; and indefinitely suspending the entry of refugees and others from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Bothina Goes to Washington

 

The press release went on to quote Congressman Veasey, stating: “It is beyond shameful that Republican elected officials and our president want to slam the door on refugees escaping violence. We can maintain America’s humanitarian leadership while keeping our nation safe, and Tamam and Bothina’s story highlights the positive result when we uphold both these ideals. Refugees like Tamam and Bothina are examples of the hope and contributions immigrants bring to their new homes.”

We, of course, couldn’t agree more.

Bothina says the decision to work with Congressman Veasey and speak to the press on behalf of Syrian refugees was not an easy one. She says she worried that she might say something that could be wrongly interpreted, and it took her a while to decide to say yes to his request. But her family was encouraging — they all thought it was a no-brainer — and so she accepted the challenge on behalf of Syrian refugees and her country. “I realized that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bothina says. “I really felt I needed to go and show people who we are.”

To prepare for her trip to Washington, D.C., where she would not only speak at a press conference, but also attend President Trump’s first speech to a joint session of Congress, Bothina spent evenings doing research and writing her comments.

Bothina Goes to Washington

 

“I wanted to be sure that when I spoke I was articulate and succinct. I wanted to be able to back up my comments with statistics,” Bothina says. “I wanted to talk about the refugees who have come to the U.S., specifically the people whom I know and how they are working and raising their children. I wanted to point out that none of them are criminals and they don't want to cause any harm to America.”

Bothina’s husband, Tamam, accompanied her to Washington. Our founder, Paula, along with Lauren J. and Alyssa, also went along to provide moral support as Bothina put a human face to the resettled refugee experience in America. “I cannot think of a better person for the job,” Paula says.

Bothina Goes to Washington

 

The day and a half that Bothina spent in Washington was action packed. After dropping their bags at their hotel, she and Tamam went to lunch with the other ladies from GAIA. There she rehearsed what she would say during the press conference. “They were really supportive and helpful,” Bothina says. After the press conference, there was time for Bothina to change clothes before doing a television interview and attending a guest reception that preceded the joint session.

At the reception, Bothina says there were four or five other women wearing headscarves, and she met an Iraqi refugee whose father had been prohibited from coming to live with him. She also met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The reception was exciting for Bothina. The joint session that followed was tough.

Bothina Goes to Washington

 

Bothina says she wasn’t seated close to any of the women she’d met at the reception and instead was surrounded by people who supported the president’s refugee ban — save for one man. Sitting quietly while others cheered each time the president spoke about fighting “radical Islamic terrorism” was extremely uncomfortable, Bothina says. “It seemed like there was no compassion, no consideration for those who were seated near them. I was crying on the inside,” she says. “I wanted to scream.”

The joint session lasted about 90 minutes, which was a long time to sit in what felt like a hostile environment. Bothina managed though, and at the end of a day that had begun at 4 a.m., she joined her husband at their hotel. 

The next day, before heading back to Texas, she and Tamam met with a staffer from Kentucky Representative Harold Rogers’s office and then went to the office of Texas Senator John Cornyn. Rogers’s staffer was well-versed in Middle Eastern politics and the existing refugee crisis. He was curious and engaged, Bothina says, but the visit with two women who worked for Senator Cornyn was disappointing.

“I wanted to emphasize that four months is a very long time for someone living in a refugee camp. I wanted to share with them that the situation was so dire, I thought about leaving the children with Tamam and attempting to go to Turkey on my own, risking my life to enter Europe illegally. I didn’t know what else I could do for my family, but they weren’t interested in knowing anything about that.”

Bothina Goes to Washington

Still, says Bothina, despite the challenges the experience presented, she would do it all again if asked. “If it’s going to help, I am going to do it again. I will do it as long as I feel it’s going to help.”

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Meet the GAIA Spring 2017 Interns

GAIA Spring Interns

It's a busy, busy time here at GAIA. We're preparing big orders and launching some pretty new spring things (check out our gorgeous new pillows and be on the lookout for a preppy-cool new line of pouches). So it's all hands on deck, including two great interns who are helping us stay on top of things.

What do GAIA interns do? Sometimes they're counting pompoms. Other times they're assisting with photos or dreaming up names for new products. Usually they're learning a little something about running a small business, and they're always ambassadors for the GAIA, helping us uphold our mission: creating beautiful style with purpose.

We're happy to introduce you to a couple of great Texas gals who are helping us get some big things accomplished this season.

GAIA Spring Interns

Name: Shelby Lynne Anders (pictured on the right)  

Age: 21  

Hometown: Kilgore, Texas  

School: Dallas Baptist University  

Class of: 2018  

Area of study: Business marketing with a focus in public relations and behavioral management  

Dream job: Editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue  

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? GAIA is one of a kind. The products, the artisans who make them, and the culture of GAIA is unique — especially in Dallas. I am ecstatic for the opportunity to encourage, empower, and walk alongside the gals of GAIA.  

What does “refugee” mean to you? Strong. I see such strength in the refugee women of GAIA. Their intellect, wisdom, determination, and laughter reveal an inner beauty that is timeless. Their journeys have not been easy, and the sacrifices they make are endless. And to be immersed in a culture that is not their own, to learn and thrive takes immense strength.  

Favorite GAIA product and why? I am obsessed with the Pom Pom bag. They make such a statement. In particular, the Lala is my favorite by far. It is whimsical yet neutral. I love the peachy poms — my absolute favorite color and print combo hands down.

GAIA Spring Interns 

Name: Ann Pollan

Age: 21

Hometown: Ennis, Texas

School: Pepperdine University

Class of: 2018

Area of study: To be determined (LOL!)  

Dream job: I consider myself to be very creative. I think my dream job would to be a creative director or something similar. I would love to be able to tell a story to an audience through clothing and furniture. I would also love to have my own clothing line.

Why are you excited to be at GAIA? I love the appearance of GAIA products. When I first saw GAIA products at Cabana and then heard the story of GAIA, I knew I wanted to intern or volunteer here. I was super excited to find a local brand that was very fashionable and had a great mission in my own backyard.

What does “refugee” mean to you? Survivor 

Favorite  GAIA product and why? I love the Cha Cha bag. I’ve been told big things come in small packages. That is how I feel about this bag. The bag is small, but between the fringe and the gold chain it will definitely be noticed. I am very petite, so the fringe clutch is a great size for me — and it’s perfect for date night. 

Interested in interning with GAIA? Email us at hello@gaiaforwomen.com.

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5 Children’s Books to Help You Talk About Refugees and Kindness 

 When we need to teach our children — or ourselves, for that matter — about a complex topic, we at GAIA turn to books. Reading is proven to open our minds and help us empathize with other people.

With the recent events concerning refugees in our country, our founder, Paula, wanted to sit down with her children and give them a glimpse into some refugee stories. She also wanted to remind them of the importance of making others feel welcome and loved in the world — and in their day-to-day lives. When she first shared these kid-friendly reads on Instagram Stories, our followers begged for more. 

So here ya go!

Children's Books

“Welcome,” by Barroux

A trio of polar bears finds themselves drifting out to sea in the French author’s simple, colorful book. At first, they are scared (who wouldn’t be!?), but relief sets in when they finally reach land. That is, until an inhospitable herd of cows forces them to move on — and that’s just the start of a series of rejections. What, oh what, will these bears do!? Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Stepping Stones,” by Margriet Ruurs

Told in Arabic and English and illustrated with the stone work of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, this little book tells the story of a family who flees their war-torn country and after a long, hard journey finds a new life in a new land. It’s a moving masterpiece with a message of hope. A portion from the sale of each book supports an organization that assists refugees. Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Lost and Found Cat,” by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

If you’re an animal lover, get ready to weep. The true story of Kunkush the cat inspires waterworks. A family flees Mosel with their beloved kitty cat secretly in tow and makes it a very long way with Kunkush. But when the family lands in Greece, Kunkush gets separated from his people. What happens later is nothing short of a miracle! Buy it here.

Children's Books

“Because Amelia Smiled,” by David Ezra Stein

Sweet Amelia wears a big grin on her face. She knows that she feels happy, but what she doesn’t know are the far-reaching effects that her smile will have on other people. David Ezra Stein does more showing than telling with his wonderfully detailed colored pencil illustrations. We never get tired of looking at this one. Buy it here.

Children's Books

“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson

This book had us at “bunny,” but its message is deeper than cuteness. The little brown fella in this book learns some important lessons about reaping what you sow — and the vast rewards of planting seeds of kindness. Buy it here.

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GAIA + Spring Break: 7 Perfect Travel Pairings

Spring break is in full swing in some parts of the country. In others, people are just packing up. To help you plan your vacation wardrobe, we (and a few of our fans) pair popular travel destinations with GAIA goods, handmade by refugee women who are rebuilding their lives in the United States.

GAIA Pom Pom Bag

Glamping in Marfa, Texas

The funky desert town of Marfa, Texas, is one of our personal favorite destinations. J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons spends time there each September, and in this month’s issue of Conde Nast Traveler, she shares with readers that on her most recent trip to this magical spot, she packed the GAIA Pom Pom bag we designed especially for J.Crew (available mid-April).

GAIA Tassel Necklace

Sightseeing in Pensacola, Florida

Julia Ussery, a boutique owner in the Florida beach town of Pensacola, pulled together a spring nautical look for Southern Living that incorporates our Cleo tassel necklace. Yes, the city has sand and surf, but it’s also a naval base. This casual yet polished outfit nods to that fact — and it’s perfect for an afternoon stroll downtown and the Museum of Art. 

GAIA Pom Pom Bag

Soaking in Sun in Cabo, Mexico

Something Beachy blogger Kelsey White shows us just how sexy a Pom Pom pouch can be when she hits the popular Mexico resort town of Cabo San Lucas wearing one of our bags made of African mud cloth with a shoulder-baring white dress. Her vacation picks appear this month on the fashion site Foray

GAIA Roundie Bag

Après-Ski in Beaver Creek, Colorado

Half the fun of going skiing is getting dressed to go skiing. The same goes for after the slopes. When you’ve had all the downhill you can take for one day and are ready to hit the town for snacks and shopping, round out the fashion scene with our Roundie (see what we did there?).

GAIA Tassel Earrings

Touring in Washington, D.C.

Part of our team recently visited the nation’s capital, which is a popular spring break destination. (Education doesn’t have to stop just because school’s not in session.) Travel light when touring important historical monuments and museums and accessorize with our Sunburst tassel earrings. Their playful style is a much-needed reminder to smile in a city that sometimes takes itself too seriously.

GAIA Cha Cha Bag

Shopping in Santa Monica, California

On the other side of the country, there’s quite the opposite sentiment. Our friends who live on the West Coast tell us it’s a bit like a permanent vacation. If spring break finds you in La La Land, there’s just one thing to do — OK, there are literally a million things to do, but hang with us — and that’s take our Cha Cha to the iconic Santa Monica Pier after an afternoon of retail therapy.

GAIA Crescent Clutch

Finding Bliss in Scottsdale, Arizona

The Wild West, as it turns out, is the ideal place to cultivate calm. Scottsdale, Arizona, is brimming with spa experiences designed to take you away from it all. Spend your days unwinding and refreshing with facials, massages, and more, and then venture out on the town for some serious eats with a GAIA Crescent clutch.

Marfa image by Paul Joseph via Creative Commons

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Meet Maria

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

Maria Sho is the very definition of the word “sprite.” Tiny, cheerful, and mischievous, she has a twinkle in her eye and a sly smile on her face. And though she speaks very little English, it’s easy to tell she has a quick wit and sharp mind.

Now 40, Maria arrived in the United States with her family in 2009. She joined the GAIA family shortly thereafter, and eight years later is still sewing for us from her home in Northeast Dallas.

Maria and her husband, Jowah Ni, fled Burma for a refugee camp in Thailand in 1996. (Burma is a republic in Southeast Asia also known as Myanmar. Killings, torture, rape, landmines, and forced labor of ethnic minorities by the Burmese military regime are not uncommon.) They lived in the camp, on the border of Thailand and Burma, with tens of thousands of others for 13 years. There, Maria became a mother to their three boys — Sanay, Laurie, and Joseph.

She remembers life in the camp as extremely difficult. She had no work, and Jowah spent much of his time away from the camp, fighting with the Karen National Liberation Army. (The KNLA has been fighting the Burmese government since 1949 for the self-determination of the Karen people of Burma. The Karens are an ethnic minority in Burma.)

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

A Fresh Start

When Maria recalls the day an NGO group camp to her camp to ask people to apply to live in the United States, she claps her hands and laughs. She didn’t hesitate to put her name on the list, saying, “I thought, ‘Maybe life is better there than in the camps.’”

And she wasn’t wrong about that.

After thorough mental and physical vetting by various agencies — there are multiple interviews and health tests before a refugee is given clearance to travel to the United States — she arrived in Dallas.

She and Jowah were worried at first. “When I looked around, I didn’t know what to think,” she says. “Jowah thought it was difficult here. We didn’t know where to go and what to do. We didn’t know who to ask for help.”

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

A Happy Ending

The International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps refugees resettle and rebuild their lives, introduced Maria to Catherin, another Burmese refugee who relocated to Dallas earlier that same year. The two women became like sisters, sharing their struggles and finding reasons to laugh together as their children also became fast friends.

Catherin was already working with GAIA, and soon Maria joined our team as well. Today, Jowah works in a restaurant, clearing tables and washing dishes. Their three children — now 20, 15, and 11 — are happy and healthy. They all inherited their mother’s hilariously dry sense of humor and have been known to prank us when we call.

 

GAIA Refugee Women - Maria

 

Maria says she is never homesick — a sentiment not often expressed by the refugees who work with us. She says is incredibly happy to be living in a safe place and to have the opportunity to work to take care of her boys. “I never want to go back,” she says.

Maria and the other refugee artisans who work at GAIA are why we exist. They inspire us to work hard and remind us to always be grateful.

To read Catherin’s story, go here. To learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help, go to rescue.org.

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The Refined Woman Features Our Founder

Last month, The Refined Woman, a lovely fashion blog and online shop, asked to feature Paula as part of its “Boss Ladies” series. Of course, we said yes to sharing the GAIA story with even more women who might fall in love with our work and help support our mission.

The questions were really fun, and they provide a bit of insight into our founder that you might not otherwise ever get, since our own blog focuses more on the refugee women of GAIA and the products they make, than Paula herself. Read on to find out what makes her happiest, how her idea of success has changed, and how she knows when it’s time to get grounded.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

Paula Minnis is the founder of GAIA Empowered Women, a socially conscious fashion line helping refugee women rebuild their lives in the U.S. through dignified employment. She lives with her husband, 4-year-old twins, and two stepchildren in Dallas.

Growing up I really wanted to be
A teacher. Early on, I realized the lasting effect an inspiring teacher could have on one’s entire attitude towards learning.

My go-to order at a coffee shop is
I’m on a Matcha Latte kick. It gives me a less jittery energy boost.

I don’t know how I ever lived without
Google Maps and my car’s back-up camera. I have zero sense of direction, and I’m not the greatest driver.

GAIA Staff

One thing people don’t know about me is
I’m happiest when singing karaoke.

My real life hero is
My husband Todd: he runs 2 businesses, travels often, works tirelessly, and yet is always positive, present and engaged when home with his family. He’s truly an inspiration, and motivates me to be the best version of myself.

What I love about my work is
It’s a privilege to get to know the refugee women and learn about their culture. It’s eye-opening, heart-warming, and humbling. The team of women who work with me to support the business constantly inspire me through their dedication and passion for serving others. And I love our customers!! They have the best hearts, and their support is the reason we’re still here.

The hardest thing about my work is
It’s hard when I feel that we’re not making as much of an impact as we could. There are so many other refugee women in need of employment, but we can only create opportunities for them if we have the business. I put enormous pressure on myself to constantly lead GAIA in a direction of growth.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

How I got started with my current career
I began a career in the fashion industry as an apparel buyer right out of college. But after a decade in that industry, I became disenchanted. When I got married and became a stepmom to 2 young kids, I took time off to regroup.

In 2009 I began volunteering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which provides care and resettlement assistance to refugees forced to flee from war or disaster. I became a mentor to a Burmese refugee woman, Catherin, and her 2 young children. After enduring over a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand, Catherin faced a new set of challenges upon her arrival to the US…. from learning how to use an ATM to navigating our health care system. Her strength and determination inspired me to do more. When I discovered that Catherin had some basic sewing skills it led to a true “light bulb moment,” and the idea for GAIA was born!

I had been reading about how unlocking a woman’s potential is crucial to the prosperity of a community, and giving women an opportunity to become self-reliant helps cultivate a brighter future for their children. I realized I could pay Catherin a living wage to sew pretty things with vintage textiles I had collected, utilizing my background in the fashion industry to bring it to market. So in late 2009, GAIA, for Goddess of the Earth, was born, with the ultimate mission of helping refugee women thrive in their new communities.

GAIA Staff Women

The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
Not learning to be more succinct in describing GAIA and our story. Keep your story short and sweet, or eyes begin to glaze over.

How do you balance work, family, and friends?
With the exception of date nights with my husband, I rarely go out at night or even meet friends during the week for lunch. Family and work occupy my time at the moment, and I’m cool with that. I read an article in which Randi Zuckerberg described the Entrepreneur’s Dilemma: “Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends. Pick three.” For me, fitness and friends have fallen by the wayside, and that’s okay. I know there will be a season when I can incorporate all five, but with a growing business and growing children, I choose to allocate my resources primarily in those areas. And I definitely require a good night’s sleep to do so!

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

I used to think success meant
Making it up the career ladder

My current definition of success is
Being part of something bigger than yourself

An example of when I had to push through my fear of taking risks was when
In 2014 I traveled to Morocco with my sister-in-law, where we camped for 5 nights in the middle of the High Atlas mountains. I also traveled alone for a few days at the end of the trip, which was a little scary, but mostly liberating and exhilarating. I now make it a point to regularly go outside of my comfort zone, either through travel or another experience that I would typically find daunting.

GAIA Refugee Women

I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
If I’ve gone over 2 weeks without exercising, then I know it’s time to squeeze in a yoga class, just to breathe, stretch, and become centered again.

The last time I created something I was proud of was
March 7, 2012, the day my twins Gabriella and Charlie were born. I struggled with infertility for several years, so their birth was a precious gift.

GAIA Founder Paula Minnis

I wish I could tell my younger self
Don’t sweat the small stuff.

The legacy I hope to leave is
I always go back to the Mother Theresa quote ”We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” My hope is simply to leave a drop or two, and hopefully encourage my kids to do the same.

XO, GAIA Empowered Women

Photos: Kelly Sutton, Steven Visneau, Hilary Walker

Be sure to check out The Refined Woman when you have a chance.

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Meet Latifa

GAIA Refugee Women - Latifa 

When Latifa Majri smiles at you, you smile back. You can’t help it. She has a joy that’s contagious, a charming twinkle in her eye, and a warm spirit that draws you in. From the moment you meet her, you feel like she’s an old friend.

Now 45, Latifa moved to the United States with her husband, Duraid Abdulkarim, in 2010. Originally from Tunisia, a North African country on the Mediterranean Sea, Latifa met Duraid in Iraq while visiting her brother, who was studying there. Duraid was her brother’s friend, and before long, Latifa and Duraid were married. 

However, even after they wed, Tunisia would not allow Duraid to become a legal resident of the country. With a war raging in Iraq, the couple couldn’t return to his homeland, so they moved to Jordan to live. 

Displaced but Determined 

Life was difficult even there. Because she was Tunisian, Latifa was allowed to work legally. She got a job sewing clothes. But as an Iraqi refugee, Duraid was forbidden to have a legal job. They did the best they could to make a life. After nine years in Jordan, the couple was chosen by the International Rescue Committee to come to the United States.

GAIA Refugee Women

Latifa says she was elated by news of the move. She knew that having an American green card would mean she would be free to visit her family in Tunisia whenever she wanted — something not available to her while she was living in Jordan. She missed her family deeply, and when her mother died, she was not allowed to return for the funeral. That had crushed her. Since relocating to Texas, Latifa has been home to Tunisia every year to visit her two sisters and brother. 

“I miss them a lot,” she says, “but every day I call them, every day we chat.” She gestures to the laptop sitting on her coffee table, and says, “I am looking for cheap tickets all the time.” 

It’s unusual for refugees to be able to afford frequent international travel, but Latifa is a woman with not only a beautiful smile, she also has a strong work ethic, unflagging determination, and goals. She holds two jobs — making necklaces and handbags at GAIA and taking care of children at a nearby daycare — and is adept at saving money. Duraid works at Parkland Hospital, and the couple lives comfortably in an apartment in Northeast Dallas.

 Firmly Rooted in America 

In June 2015, Latifa and Duraid became United States citizens. “June 2, 2015, I took the test,” Latifa says, remembering the date with that big, infectious smile and obvious pride. “And the ceremony was June 19, 2015. When I passed, I was crying!”

GAIA Refugee Women

Latifa says she loves living in the United States. When she talks about being unafraid here, she gives herself a hug. When she shares that she voted for the first time in the 2016 presidential election, she positively beams.

 Latifa and Duraid knew no English when they arrived in Texas. They had no friends. They had very little money. But they went to school and learned the language. They both got jobs and rebuilt their lives. Seven years after their move, they are healthy and happy and filled with gratitude for the opportunities given them.

GAIA Refugee Artisans

Latfia is one of 19 refugee artisans currently working at GAIA. As her story demonstrates, meaningful work and a living wage are key in a refugee’s efforts to rebuild a happy life. These women are why we exist, and it is our honor and privilege to share their stories with you.

Please take the time to read about Huda and Bothina and keep reading our blog in the months ahead for more of their stories. 

Learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help at rescue.org.

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Six Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ With GAIA

  

If we were to draw the time between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, it would undoubtedly be the shape of a heart: one lush curve; a downward sweep; turn the corner; and back up again to a second loving curve. ❤️❤️❤️

 If you’re thinking about sweets for your sweets, let us help. These pretties are the perfect sugar-free way to show your affection. What’s more, they are handmade with love by GAIA’s refugee artisans, who are rebuilding their lives through meaningful work that pays a living wage. What could be more heartfelt than that? 

1. Flower Crown Pom Pom Bag | 2. Elena Mini Heart Purse | 3. Love. Text Pouch | 4. Lala Roundie | 5. Laurel Tassel Necklace | 6. Ruby Sunburst Earrings

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