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~ GAIA Goodness ~

The Ultimate GAIA Gift Guide

At GAIA, we're making our lists and checking them twice...with GAIA goodies of course! To make your own holiday shopping a breeze, we're sharing our shopping lists with you. (And we may have added some items we'd love to see under our own tree. Hint, hint!) Click around online, or come visit our cottage in Uptown to find the perfect present for your friends and family. And know that when you choose to give a GAIA gift, you're also giving a refugee woman a second chance. 

 Megan, Ops-Overseer-in-Training

This year I’m planning to gift the Coco Earrings to my sister in law. She loves a good statement earring and our Coco magically matches everything. It’s the perfect compliment to dress up or down!

My sister has been eyeing our GAIA Key Rings so I'm excited to surprise her with one this Christmas! She's a busy teacher and has two little boys so she's always on the go and needs an easy solution to find her keys quick and easy. Our key rings are the perfect thing to attach to your purse strap or favorite GAIA pouch so you're never delayed by missing keys again…not to mention, they're just adorable to carry! 

Our new Kennedy Bella Bag is definitely at the top of my Christmas list this year. I LOVE how versatile she is! Bella is reversible and can be worn as an easy date night bag or cute crossbody!

Lauren, Digital Marketing Maven & Strategy Whiz

I have lots of friends having babies, and my go-to gift for them is always a GAIA Diaper Pouch and one of the amazing children’s books we carry. I love the Eden Diaper Pouch because it’s a happy gender-neutral option. “This Is How We Do It” and “Welcome” are usually my go-to book selections!

When in doubt, give a Small Pouch! Sister-in-law, client, friend, teacher… literally everyone can use one, and there’s less pressure on picking the perfect pattern because it’s small enough for them to toss in their every-day bag of choice.

What’s on my wish-list? Um, everything! I love our Sunburst Earrings, I love our Cha Chas, and I’m definitely eyeing our new Bella Bag… but one item I’ve had heart-eyes for awhile is our Asilah XL Tote. I’m banking on a lovely spring in Dallas, and as a new mom, I need more storage than I used to. I’m envisioning lots of lovely picnics at the park with this trusty tote!

Paula,  GAIA's Fearless Leader 

This year I’m feeling inspired by the fashion and textile guru, and self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Living Teenager”, Iris Apfel. I’ll be gifting her book to my super-stylish step-mom, who never leaves the house looking less than a million bucks.

My sisters--who inherited her great taste and appreciation of all statement jewelry-- will be receiving our GAIA “Jet” Earrings, made by our artisans with hand-polished brass and suede fringe.

I consider leopard print a neutral, so our Marilyn Cha Cha is definitely at the top of my list!

 

Devin, GAIA Hospitality Guru

I am going get the Elphie Sunburst Earrings for my friend who is always into a bold fashion statement.

I am also going to gift my friend, who is a new mom, with a Diaper Pouch and Bib + Bootie Set. That little baby will be such a stylish cutie!

The GAIA goodie I would like to receive is a Lala Pillow. I love the story of Kufri and dig its playful print!

Brooke, Design & Production Pro

I want to give my sister the washed denim "All The Things” pouch this year. She’s a new mom and this is the perfect “catch all” for her diaper bag that she can wash. 

My nieces will love the Mini Kitty Purses. They’re the perfect size for the littles and they’ll love playing with the pom poms and eyelashes. 

I would love to get the Bella Bag this year. I love that it is reversible and is the perfect size for a night out, but can also be worn with a chain during the day.

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10 Gifts for 10 Personalities

You know you have found the perfect gift when you can just imagine your bestie squealing with joy as she's pulling the tissue paper out of the bag. But no two members of your tribe are alike. That's why we've rounded up 10 gifts for 10 different personalities so you can check everyone off your nice list. 

She's a Jet-Setter

She's always on the go, flying from from coast to coast. She likes to travel light, so help her pack her carry-on essentials with a sturdy Utility Pouch. Each is made from high-performance Perennials fabric, so you can trust it can hold up to her frequent flyer miles.  

 

She's the PTA President

No doubt she is dashing from here to there, always reaching for her keys. Plus, she's probably balancing a backpack, PTA binder, Yeti, and a Goyard tote all on one arm. She needs a key ring to lighten the load. 

She's Your Mom (Or MIL)

There's no question who reigns supreme in your family. (And her favorite pet name for you is "Honey.") She'll adore the "Queen" small pouch made of French jacquard fabric in a bee print finished with grosgrain ribbon detail. 

 

She's an Animal Lover

She adopts dogs, stops for cats, and has saved a whale or two. The "Canary" large pouch adorned with cranes is feminine and pretty--the perfect accessory to show off her wild side. 

 

She's Front Row at Fashion Week

Every fashionista knows that leopard is a neutral. The "Marilyn" Cha Cha bag is the perfect size to hold her Tom Ford lipstick and Stella McCartney sunnies so that she can run from show to show in style.

 

 

She's Your Mini Me

Your tot's eyes will glisten with delight when she unwraps the "Dolores" mini heart purse.  The Indian block print fabric and trio of pom poms are as cute as she is. 

 

She's Your Biggest Fan

Handcrafted from suede & brass, GAIA x Melt earrings blend traditional & modern. They are a rock-solid design for a rock-solid BFF. 

 

She is #goals

She's always Insta perfect. She even shows up to brunch camera-ready. Give her something to like with this "Domino" tote. 

 

She's a Doll

If your little loves an accessory, this necklace by Folklore Las Ninos is a perfect stocking stuffer. The design features bright pom poms, a tassel, and a Guatemalan worry doll, which is said to offer solidarity for your worries and doubts. 

She's all Ears

Our pompom and tassel earrings are just the thing for the friend who always answers when you call and is always happy to listen. 

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So Much to be Thankful For

 As we start to make our way into the holiday season, life at GAIA can be pretty hectic. Filling holiday orders, wrapping gifts, and making sure that each customer is taken care of with a smile. (We love what we do!) But amidst the craziness of matching pom poms with the right swatch of fabric, we love to take the time to reflect on the moments during the year that remind of us why we love to work for a company that offers a place for women to support one another. Read on for a few of our GAIA team members' most memorable moment of gratitude and thanks. 

'I became a mom right there in the foyer of our new GAIA home.'

My most memorable GAIA moment of 2018 isn’t hard to pick this year! It was March 20th, the day we moved from our old office to our new storefront. We were buried in boxes, saying goodbye to our sweet space of 4+ years, and then navigating the cardboard traffic at the new location, as the old tenants moved out the same day! It was madness! I don’t think I stopped moving all day, and was just about to unpack the first box when my husband came bursting through the front door of our new studio. I thought he was paying me a surprise visit to congratulate us on a successful move! But instead he told me that he and our adoption caseworker had been trying to reach me all afternoon because we had been matched with a little boy, our son Miles, who was 5 weeks old! I became a mom right there in the foyer of our new GAIA home, covered in dust and dirt, exhausted and satisfied from the craziest most exciting day that just got infinitely crazier and more exciting! I am so thankful for my team. All the GAIA Gals that work tirelessly behind the scenes to make magic happen, and who all stepped up in a big way so that I didn’t have to worry one bit as I stepped away to welcome our new baby boy. There are no other women on this earth that I would rather have by my side...at GAIA or in life! Love you girls, and thank you for all of your love and support through this new season of my life. Miles doesn’t yet know how blessed he is to be constantly surrounded & doted upon by such incredible women! He’s one lucky little dude! -Lauren, Digital Marketing Maven & Strategy Wiz

 

'I walked into this space and began to tear up.'

Behind the beauty of branding and blouses, it is easy to become disenchanted by all of the work that still needs to be done. But then there are moments that remind you why we are all still here: still truckin’ along, witnessing quirky friendships unfold and lives transform. One of those enchanting moments happened for me during Paula’s birthday party. Manar, Huda, Forat, Buthayna, Mariza, the GAIA Team of past and present were all there...plus our interns! I had just finished helping some gals on clean up duty in the kitchen and I was going to get something from the retail space. If you haven’t been to the GAIA Cottage there is this magical vantage point in the hallway where you can view all of the wonders at once. I walked into this space and began to tear up. To my right, between the cash-wrap and chalkboard, our interns were building blocks with Amina (Marzia’s daughter) as Miles (Lauren’s son) crawled around on the floor. To my left, were the women of GAIA: some in matching pink hijabs, some in comfy sweaters, some gathered around the table lavished with pizza and dishes of food which were labors of love. “This is GAIA,” the thought echoed in my mind. We blossomed from one unique friendship and transformed into a community. Women helping women, from all walks of life, by supporting each other, loving on babies as if they were our own, growing in talents, and celebrating our gifts. We don’t always do this perfectly, but this reminded me of what it’s all about. - Devin, GAIA Cottage Hospitality Guru

 

 

'These women are more than just coworkers.'

This year, and frankly, every year I have worked for GAIA, I am overwhelmingly grateful for how the GAIA team functions as a true family. This past year, my husband and I experienced a major loss, but also experienced one of the greatest joys: getting pregnant. The GAIA Gals rallied around us and were extremely supportive as we processed our grief, and were just as excited as we were when we found out we were having a baby! I will never be able to put to words how thankful I am for their continuous love and support. These women are more than coworkers, they have become my close friends, and I can’t wait for my son to be surrounded by such strong loving women, who also happen to come from all different backgrounds and parts of the world! My family and I have been blessed beyond measure by the GAIA Gals. - Alyssa, Design & Production Ace

 

'It's always such a joyous celebration!'

"This summer we invited all of the artisans to the office for a potluck lunch and pictures. It was so encouraging to see all of the women breaking bread together, catching up, and playing with each others' kids. We don’t get to have all of them here very often, but when we do it’s always such a joyous celebration! I’m so thankful that I get to work in a positive environment where everyone is welcomed with open arms. That day at GAIA really made it feel like a home, where all women are welcome at any point in time.” - Brooke, Design & Production Pro

 

'There are so many special moments.'

Every moment I spend here has a strong memory, whether it's our endless laughter, or the sense of accomplishment after I create the first new product for a collection.  There are so many special moments.  Also, I can't help to think about the moment this past Spring when I was able to travel back to the Middle East to see my Mom, two sisters and their families for the first time in 7 years after being separated when we fled the violence in Syria....which I know could not have happened without the unending support from the team and everyone at GAIA. - Buthayna, Refugee Artisan Trainer & Calmer

 

'The sense of community at GAIA is contagious.'

As the newest member of the GAIA team, I am most thankful to have been able to experience and learn what being a part of the "GAIA Family" truly means. In my short 3 weeks on the job, I've already witnessed a joint baby shower, a birthday party for our fearless leader Paula, and multiple GAIA Family lunches. I've gotten to love on babies, try Middle Eastern dessert, Afghan cuisine, and immerse myself in a community environment that is full of warmth, love, and diversity. The sense of community here at GAIA is contagious and, as the newbie, I'm quickly learning is part of what makes working for GAIA so special. I'm incredibly thankful to get to work beside so many inspiring, loving, empowered women here and can't wait to see how many more thankful moments this next year brings! Being a member of GAIA is so much more than any other career position I've had, it's truly joining a family; a family I'm thrilled to be a part of. - Megan, Ops-Overseer-In-Training

 

'I didn’t think it could get any better…'

My work at GAIA has given me so much to be thankful for over years… just having the honor of working alongside refugee women - hearing their stories, being humbled by their resilience and grace, and witnessing their families thrive in their new home - it has truly blessed my soul.   Not to mention my incredible team!!  Watching them joyfully come to work each day to lift up the lives of others just warms my heart… these are some GOOD humans I get to hang with every day!  I didn’t think it could get any better… until our happy GAIA family found our new happy home.  Moving into the GAIA Cottage this past Spring has been such a joyful new chapter in our journey.  A warm, cozy, and inviting environment for our artisans, staff, and guests to gather in has been a dream come true.  Opening a store wasn’t necessarily part of the plan, but that’s turned out to be a blast as well!  The best part is that we’re able to open our doors to the community, building fellowship in way we haven't been able to achieve in the past - bringing people together from different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths.  We’ve hosted Craft Workshops led by our refugee Artisans, and Kids’ Art Workshops with children from multiple cultures creating alongside each other.  This new chapter has definitely had it’s challenges, with a lot of stress along the way… but miraculously, people came into our lives with the desire to help, to contribute in some way.  Artists, Designers, Coordinators, the list goes on. For all of this I am so grateful.  This Thanksgiving, my belly AND my heart will be full!  - Paula, Founder & Ship Steerer 

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Meet Forat

In Islam, the origin and meaning of a name is significant. It bears the burden of ushering the character of the individual and provides prophetic sense of what they can hope to be. Forat means “sweet water” and relates back to the river Al-Forat which goes by another name, the Euphrates. The ancient body of water weaves through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and is regarded throughout history as a metaphor for life. Life tends to fluctuate in its gentleness and ferocity, and like the temperment of the Euphrates, Forat’s life, once filled with walks along the book markets in Babylon, was torn apart and devastated by war and violence in Iraq. With the same force of the Euphrates, Forat has experienced both immense life and devastating pain which she now balances with grace and dexterity as she navigates the waters of being a refugee in Texas.

Searching for Home

After the invasion of Iraq in 2004, the country was left in the throws of a sectarian civil war. Ten years later and the death toll was still rising. From 2014 to 2015, there were almost 19,000 civilian casualties. In the same year there were reported of 36,000 injuries and 3.2 million people were displaced. When asked about life in Iraq at this time, Forat said she felt like she wasn’t alive. She would stay home, because finding a job was nearly impossible while the country roiled by violence. After realizing they needed to find a safe place to live, Forat’s family began applying for refugee status and a visa for the United States in 2009. Three years of rigorous vetting passed before Forat and her husband, Liwaa, and their three children, finally embarked on a journey of resettling in the U.S., in 2012. Unfortunately, their stay wasn’t long. The heartache of leaving their home and everyone they knew in Iraq was unbearable. When Forat’s family arrived in the States, they felt plunged into the isolation of resettling into an unfamiliar culture and an unfamiliar language. Their hardships and the depleted health of Forat’s father drove them to return to Iraq. Back home, the devastation was more than they could bear and the homeland if their memories was too ravaged for them to remain. On November 18th 2014, Forat’s family officially resettled in Dallas, Texas. Forat says; “It’s a special day for me because I feel like I am back home.” She came to the U.S. without knowing any English, apart from a few phrases like: “Good Morning,” “How are you?,” and “No speak English.”

The transition to a new life proved to be challenging, especially to someone like Forat who seeps joyous energy and who’s natural disposition is nothing less than an extroverted powerhouse. She was caught in the limbo between having all of the bureaucracy (visa, social security, etc.) that says Texas is now her home, and the ability to engage with her new community that would make Texas feel like home. Forat remembers visiting White Rock Lake with her family when a woman approached her. The friendly stranger introduce herself in English but she spoke too quickly and Forat could not understand her. All that Forat knew to say was “no speak English” and even though she wanted to reach out, timidity and the language barrier barred her from connection.

The galvanizing moment for Forat’s journey with English was when she recognized the importance of being an advocate for her children. At the doctor’s office, in school, and during their transition into American life, Forat fought like a champ to break down the language barrier by reading children’s books at the library with her kids and engaging with new friends. Life slowly became more palatable. She also had the help of an older American friend, named Margaret, who lovingly told Forat’s children to call her Grandma. With a gentle, “Hey Forat…”, Margaret would correct and encourage Forat in her English and teach her how to read recipes for dishes she can easily make in the States. ESL classes became less daunting with English-speaking friends that could help her along the way.

Time at VTC

Through connections in her ESL class, Forat was lead to to doors of Vickery Trading Company, a local nonprofit with programs for refugee women to garner their skills in english, financial literacy, and sewing. Their goal is to equip resettled women with as many tools as they can, creating a flourishing existence and self-sufficiency. VTC hires refugees from all over the world and a way they create a community that is ties strangers together is by requiring everyone to speak one unifying language: English. Forat recounts how daunting her first two weeks were when she was new to VTC and unable to speak any English. “But I learned with Vickery Trading Company,” Forat recalls, and through her classes and friendships with the international community at VTC, she found a family. After two years, Forat graduated VTC and had the opportunity to dip her toes into a new vocational field with all of her newly attained skills.

The GAIA Family

Soon, Forat found her way to us! Her laugh radiates through our cottage and she is quick to welcome a new face with her transparency and encouragement. Forat fits seamlessly into our GAIA family and we are honored to welcome her! One take away from Forat’s story is that Humans. Carry. On. Even when denied the right to peace and security, there is a deep resilience settled in their soul. We often lose sight that refugees are normal people. They have family traditions and rush hour traffic and dreams of growing old with people they love. They work. They play. They go about their everyday life trying to make ends meet while they pick their kids up at school and wonder if the cat has been fed. Then war enters their narrative. The “everyday” is disrupted when peace splinters. Humans wrong humans. Decisions beyond their control catapult the everyday questions into those of survival.

In several of the conversations with Forat about common misconceptions of refugees, she has a recurring lament she wishes she could share; “We are normal. Refugees are people, just like everyone else.” It is a rather centering idea. Instead of reacting to a narrative like Forat’s with pity or disbelief or disassociation there is an opportunity to engage. An opportunity to acknowledge it isn’t our homelands, skin tone, or religion that binds us to each other, it’s the unity of humanity. As Mother Teresa puts it; “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.” It is our duty to enter into the unrest, to provide what is lacking, and love like we belong to each other.

 

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GAIA Attends the Nest<>Hermès Convening in NYC!

GAIA Attends the Nest<>Hermès Convening in NYC!

GAIA founder Paula Minnis was invited to attend a three-day Artisan Leadership Summit as a guest of Nest, a nonprofit that builds a new handwork economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women's well-being beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world. For this year's summit, guests were invited to learn about all-things Hermès. Paula couldn't wait to get to New York to represent GAIA, meet the talented fellow attendees, and peek behind the brand's orange curtain! But most of all, it was such an amazing opportunity to learn from a 181-year-old brand that has always been true to its core identity.

Paula and fellow artisans and brands (including Dallas' Vickery Trading Company) learned from Nest and Hermès leaders on topics such as brand identity, customer service, distribution, and customer retention. It was truly a hands-on workshop with meaningful takeaways and tricks of the trade. 

 

Experts in their fields, such as Virginia Nam from the fashion partnership division of Instagram, spoke about telling your story via the social media platform, as well as best practices for branding on Instagram. (We think our Instagram account is pretty worthy of a follow if you ask us!)

Here's the fabulous Nest group at the Hermès store in New York! The visual merchandising manager and store manager gave a private tour before the store opened, and the group learned about visual merchandising, including best practices for color, composition, assortment, and display. Drop by our Dallas store sometime to see how we put our new knowledge to use! 

The group got to have some fun too! Paula and the rest of the Nest gang were invited to the Carré Club, a traveling pop-up that shows off the brand's iconic silk scarf designs and showcases artists from around the world. And we even had a celeb spotting. (Yep, that's Miss Martha Stewart!) 

GAIA founder Paula Minnis even got inked! Don't worry, it was just a temporary tattoo to get in the Hermès spirit. It was so fun to learn from the various artists, as well as shop the pop-up's custom scarf designs.  

On the final day, Paula was invited to share what she learned. Her major takeaways: own your unique identity and vision and stay true to your brand; build a strong framework because the roots of the tree are in place from which all the branches grow; and create a genuine customer experience. Our hope at GAIA is that we enchant you, surprise you, and exceed your expectations, all well helping refugee women earn a living wage. Whether you're shopping online for the perfect bag or popping in the store to say hello, our customer experience is one of our favorite parts of what we do every day. (Just wait until you see what our new "Hospitality Guru" Devin McCrary has implemented already! Hint: super cute packaging and wrapping.)

 

We couldn't leave New York without an orange bag. Inside were DIY leather keyrings. We do love a craft. (And a keychain of course!) To learn more about Nest, visit their website to see why they're a favorite nonprofit of ours. 

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Books We Love - For both Kids AND Grown-ups!

Books We Love  - For both Kids AND Grown-ups!

At GAIA, we believe that education is empowerment. It’s the core of our mission statement to help women through employment, encouragement, and dedication to their long-term success in our local communities. With education as a pillar of what we do every day in our Dallas shop & studio, we love to offer a selection of books that help children grasp the lessons of compassion, inclusion, kindness, and diversity. Start them young! Here are a few favorites we stock in the store:

For the Littles

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill

Why we love it: The New York Times said it best: “These days, it seems more important than ever for books to show young people how to act with thoughtfulness, civility, and kindness.”

What it teaches: This book explores what it means to be kind, from standing up to a bully to asking a new child to play. It also reiterates how any act big or small can make a difference in someone’s life.

Little People, Big Dreams series

Why we love it: This series of books makes big lessons and female role models in history accessible and easy for kids to understand.

What it teaches: We love that each book is a history lesson wrapped into a story about an inspiring woman. Amelia Earhart, Mother Theresa, and Marie Currie all take center stage to teach your children that yes, you can be or do anything you put your mind to.

Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan and illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Why we love it:The illustrations are beautiful—each one standing on its own as a mini piece of art—and the text is simple and straight-forward.

What it teachesHats of Faith is an introduction to the custom of religious head coverings, such as hijabs, patkas, and turbans. Open up the conversation with your kids about different religions, cultures, and clothing.

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe

Why we love it: Author Matt Lamothe takes children on an international journey to Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia. In each country, the story follows a day in the life of a child. Learn about what they like to play, wear, and how they live.

What it teaches: Children are able to peek inside the world of children who are different from them, but at the same time they may draw conclusions that some of the characters’ daily interactions mirror their own.

For the Bigs

We carry inspirational tomes for adults too! These books are easy on the eyes, but good for the soul. We believe that the beauty on the inside is just as important as the outside, so each coffee table book not only has gorgeous photography, but each one covers a topic that inspires us—travel, fashion, and of course, visionary women. Here are a few of our favorites:

Gaia by Guy Laliberte

Why we love it:  Because of the name, obvs!  Seriously, you know we had to carry a book that shares our namesake.   In Greek mythology, Gaia was the mother goddess who presided over earth. And this book celebrates her in all her glory. Flip through stunning portraits of earth from Guy Laliberte’s private journey in space, reminding us that anything is possible.

Mother and Child by Claiborne Swanson Frank

Why we love it: One (of the many) things we love about our job is meeting the families of the refugee women—their children often joining us at our workspace. So it only made sense to include a book that is about family. This beautiful book captures 70 iconic mothers and what it means to be a mom in the modern age.

Visionary Women by Angella M. Nazarian

Why we love it: The heart of what we do is about giving women empowerment, and this book truly embodies the message to follow your dreams. The author highlights 20 visionary women, such as the youngest Nobel Prize laureate Alala Yousafzai, dancer Carmen Amaya, swimmer Diana Nyad, and more.

 

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Meet Devin McCrary

Meet Devin McCrary

Here at GAIA, our team members are like family. So when someone new comes into the fold, we love to make a warm introduction to our customers—because you’re part of our extended family, too! Next time you visit our retail spot in Uptown to shop for your favorite GAIA goodies, our new "Hospitality Guru" Devin McCrary will be the newest face you’ll see. (And one with the friendliest smile, clearly!)  There's a reason her secondary title is "Coordinator of Conviviality and GAIA Cottage Affairs." Devin, who has a background in retail, also has a passion for helping refugee women.

The Dallas native embarked on an international journey when she was fresh out of high school. The adventure took her to Rwanda, Peru, and the Middle East, where she worked to help women and young girls who had been abused or oppressed. The avid writer was also keeping a blog at the time about her experience. But that wasn’t without its own set of struggles. “We would go into the [Rwandan] slums and do prenatal and postpartum checkups for the women. I realized I lacked the words to describe the women I was meeting in a dignifying way,” she says. “To actually sit with another individual on a person-to-person basis, you have to get in the mess and the grayness. How can life be so bad but there still be genuine joy. How do I describe that to an audience who has never had this experience?”

When she got back from her time overseas, Devin knew that she was meant to serve and help others. And that’s when she was called to pursue her dream to write. “If you allow experiences like that to change you, you can’t not act differently in the world to try to make things better,” she says. “That’s how I felt afterwards.” After a stint in New York, she realized that being a high-powered journalist may not be the right vehicle. She was confused about what her next step was going to be.

One day, she opened up her diary, and there was a card inside from a friend who was working with refugees. “It made no sense why the card was supposed to be in there,” she says. She picked up the phone and called him, and he soon introduced her to a community that helped pregnant refugee women. She moved back home to pursue her degree, and that fateful conversation led her to serve and befriend many refugee women. While working at Commerce in The Adolphus, Devin learned about GAIA’s mission to empower women through employment, encouragement, and dedication to their long-term success in the community. She met with founder Paula Minnis, and they hit it off.

Now Devin will help with the retail store and all aspects of the GAIA brand. “Working with GAIA has been so meaningful because it’s just being a part of something and doing something to help,” she says.

Here’s a little more about Devin.

Favorite read: The New Yorker

Favorite listen: Serial and This American Life. I have a crush on Ira Glass. He is a very encouraging human.

Favorite workout: Climbing. I boulder and I climb top-rope. It’s like a sport for people who are bad at exercising.

Favorite spot for coffee in Dallas: Davis Street Espresso. I love going there in the mornings when the sun is rising.

Favorite place to shop: Buffalo Exchange. I can get a bunch of cute vintage things there.

Favorite colors: I jam out to floral patterns, cobalt blue, and pastel pink.

Favorite item at GAIA right now: The scrunchies. They are so cute!

Favorite quote: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say ‘It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” - Mr. Rogers

What are you most looking forward to about working at GAIA? I think what I have to offer is bringing the humanness and the humanity of what we’re serving. It all [GAIA] started with a friendship where one person saw the other person had needs. I’m really good at focusing on humans and expressing those connections with other people.

What do you want others to know about refugee women? Beyond cultural divide, they are normal people that have the same feelings that you have. They feel the same joy and the same fear and they want to be accepted just like everyone wants to be accepted.

 

 

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Meet Marzia

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

One look at tiny Marzia and you know that she’s one of a kind. Her colorful clothing tells you right away that she’s a lighthearted soul with a fun personality. Her bright smile and sweet laugh draw you in with hopes of learning more. What she lacks in stature — she’s tiny! — she makes up for in laughter and heart.

Marzia was only 6 months old when her parents moved their family from Afghanistan to Pakistan to escape civil war nearly 25 years ago. Her parents and six of her brothers and sisters remain in Pakistan to this day. A sister has moved back to Afghanistan.

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

But Marzia arrived in the United States in March 2016 with her husband, Abdul; her baby daughter, Aamana; and her hearing-impaired mother-in-law, whom she helps care for. Two years later, Marzia and Abdul have settled into jobs and are expecting their second child.

Because her family was poor, Marzia attended school only through the third grade, when she needed to go to work sewing clothes. Her seamstress skills are put to good use at GAIA, where she works on our text pouches and tops.

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

Marzia’s innate joy shows in her attitude about her new life, her delight in her co-workers, and even her beautiful handwriting. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when she was frightened and struggling, but she is honest about that recent history. It wasn’t that long ago — only a couple of years — that she and Abdul were unsafe and desperate to be selected to come to the United States.

It didn’t matter to Marzia that the only word she knew in English was “hi” or that she didn’t know where Dallas was on a map. She knew only that there had to be a better place for her and her family than Afghanistan. And she wasn’t wrong about that. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Marzia

Beaming, she says, “I am so excited to have a fun job. I work; I go to English classes. My husband is happy. Maybe our children will grow up to be teachers or doctors.”

Each of our refugee artisans has a unique story. Read more here.

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Meet the Girls Behind "GAIA for Girls"

Teeming with kids of all ages, even through the summer, Jack Lowe Elementary School in central Dallas is a lively place. It’s where founder and managing director of the Vickery Meadow Summer Reading Academy Dalene Buhl comes each morning to oversee unique programs in English language phonics, reading, and writing, with extracurricular nutrition, music, PE, tap dance, and art.

New on her roster this year: GAIA for Girls. With great enthusiasm, she supervises nine girls, grades 7 through 10, in our jewelry-making venture and lives up to her unofficial title of 'Chief Optimist'. Buhl and her colleague Gail Stoke were instrumental in helping us create the GAIA program intended to empower girls and their mothers to help their families, and Buhl beams when she talks about the potential long-term impact on the young students. The program not only provides income for the girls and their families, she says, but it also stimulates their creativity, builds their confidence, teaches them about business from inception to production and beyond, and plants seeds of curiosity and independent determination for their futures. Talk with the girls and you can almost see those seeds sprouting.

In some ways, these teenagers are very typical. In one moment, they giggle shyly; in another, they boldly offer their opinions. Like other teenage girls, they enjoy television, sports, music, and their friends. But in other very significant ways, they are unlike many teenagers you know. Their hardships can be difficult to fathom. Some come from families who live on less than $800 per month (let that sink in for a moment). Others have parents who are disabled, ill, or have died. Yet despite their burdens, these girls have strong spirits and palpable ambition. That’s how they ended up in the program in the first place: They felt frustrated by their families’ situations and determined to find a way to help.

The girls say that working together, designing and crafting text bracelets for GAIA for Girls has not only been good for their families, but it’s also strengthened their friendships and given them the satisfaction of making something beautiful. There’s a lot to love in this little group. Says 13-year-old Norhafizah, whose family immigrated to the United States from Malyasia: “We have talents that are rare in the world! We are uniquely awesome!”

Below, you can get to know a few of these sweet girls a bit better.

Emmanuel

Age: 13
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Reading, dancing, sleeping, and watching cartoons
Goals: To be a doctor, travel the world, and live a happy life
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Designing and crafting the bracelets!”

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Rebecca

Age: 12
Home country: Myanmar
Loves: Cooking, sewing, singing, dancing, and reading
Goals: To become a doctor in order to help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “I like that [my sister, Emmanuel, and I] are helping our parents.”

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Tay Mo 

Age: 14
Home country: Thailand
Loves: Playing soccer and the violin
Goals: To be successful in and outside of school; to be a leader in my family
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Being creative and making something beautiful is a good way show your true colors.”

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Dar

Age: 13
Home country: Burma
Loves: Watching K-pop, singing, and dancing
Goals: To become a doctor and help others
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Helping my parents with the finances. This is a good opportunity to learn and earn money.”

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Norhafizah

Age: 13
Home country: Malaysia
Loves: Playing badminton, swimming, exercising, dancing, singing, and eating
Goals: To go to college and get a good job after
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “Because I often like to waste my time watching movies and eating and playing and sleeping, this is good for me. I like being creative, and this keeps me active.”

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Marisol

Age: 15
Home country: United States (first generation)
Loves: Listening to music, playing the piano, doing crafts, and helping in school Goals: To go to college and eventually own a business
Favorite part of GAIA for Girls: “As far back as third grade, I was designing bracelets and selling them to friends at school, so I am really excited to make it an actual job.”

 

Shop the GAIA for Girls collection now.

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Meet Saja

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja 

In March 2003, troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland invaded Iraq. This first stage of the Iraq War, called Operation Iraqi Freedom, was meant “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” A decade later, the country still raged with internal war. Cities were destroyed, the threat of deadly violence from Al-Qaeda was everywhere, and a young woman named Saja and her husband, Ahmed, decided to seek safety in Turkey. 

You wouldn’t guess that fact by looking at them. They are a peaceful, beautiful pair with two sweet children, a 5-year-old daughter named Jomana and a 3-year-old son named Ramy. Jomana will start kindergarten in the fall, and Ramy is into taking things apart. They are much like most other children you know, only they speak both Arabic and English. Saja and Ahmed arrived in the United States in December 2014, after living in Turkey nearly two years. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

Temporarily in Turkey

 Saja’s story doesn’t involve a covert night-time border crossing or desperate years in a refugee camp, but that doesn’t mean her journey as a refugee has been easy. Though she and Ahmed were able to drive across the Iraq/Turkey border and set up house in Istanbul without trouble, neither of them spoke Turkish and they were told they would not be allowed to work. In Iraq, Ahmed worked as a photographer — sometimes with the press — and owned a banner-making business. After a few months in Turkey, “we ran out of money,” Ahmed says. “Life was really hard there.”

Luckily, Ahmed is a resourceful man who is quick with languages. He not only learned Turkish, but he found a way to earn money. He also sought asylum for himself and Saja in the United States as war refugees.  

After completing their application, they waited six weeks for a phone call, after which they traveled about six hours from their home in Istanbul for their first interview. By this time, Saja was nine months pregnant. Ahmed remembers that day well: “On September 25, they made a detailed interview with us — Why did you leave Iraq? What is your story. How many brothers and sisters you have?” he says.

“They needed to know if we had a good reason to leave. I told them the truth. ‘I am afraid. I was working with the press and with the Americans, and I am really afraid they will come and end my life.’” 

Two days later, Saja and Ahmed welcomed Jomana into the world. 

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

The Waiting Game 

Saja and Ahmed were given a case number to follow on a website. He was told it would be months before a decision was made, but even so he eagerly checked the site every week. “After six months, I see that we have been selected!” he recalls. 

Saja says she looked at the site and she shouted with glee and cried. “We were excited,” she says, “but at the same time a little bit sad. I was thinking, “But when will we ever see our family again?’”

Another interview and many security screenings followed that happy day. Another six months pass before they find out that they would indeed be granted refugee status and move to the United States. After saying goodbye to their friends, Saja, Ahmed, and Jomana boarded a U.S.-bound plane. Their trip to Dallas included a six-hour layover in the Netherlands and a night in New York. They requested Dallas because they already had friends here and knew making a new life would be easier if they knew at least someone.

GAIA Refugee Women - Saja

Well and Happy in Dallas

Since arriving in Dallas, Saja and Ahmed have worked terrifically hard to establish a rich, full life. Ahmed works at Walmart and they’ve had a second child, Ramy. He is still taking photos and is interested in website design. The couple is saving for a house and dream of the day when they can buy a new car. 

 Though Saja didn’t work outside the home in Iraq or Turkey, she went to work in Dallas creating jewelry for Melt Goods before joining the GAIA team in January 2018. She is the only one of our refugee artisans who knows how to cut, sand, and polish the brass we use for our earrings. She says that someday she’d love to run her own jewelry business.

On the day that we sat down with Saja and Ahmed to talk about their story, they were headed to the beach in Galveston, Texas, for a weekend away with friends.

“It’s a good life,” says Saja. “We are happy.”

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