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~ GAIA Goodness ~

Meet Huda

GAIA Refugee Women - Huda

Huda Zedya is working on her English. She takes classes and has a mentor who tutors her once a week. But it’s difficult to learn a new language at 54 years old, and she is shy about speaking. 

However, understanding and answering questions in a language other than her native tongue isn’t the most difficult thing about life in the United States for the Syrian refugee. The hardest part: having her three children and their families scattered far and wide with little hope of reuniting.

Huda and her husband, Majed Alsharaa, arrived in the United States in December 2015, after being selected by the United Nations for relocation from Jordan. They’d lived in Jordan since 2012, having left their home in Daraa, Syria.

GAIA Refugee Women

The Temporary Becomes Permanent

According to Wikipedia, “Daraa became known as the ‘cradle of the revolution’ after protests at the arrest of 15 boys from prominent families for painting graffiti with anti-government slogans sparked the beginning of Syrian Uprising of 2011.” What that meant for Huda and Majed was difficulty accessing doctors — Huda has a heart condition; Majed has an eye problem. “We went to Jordan for medical care. Going to the hospital wasn’t easy in Syria. The hospitals were full of the wounded and injured,” Huda says. 

When Huda and Majed left Syria, they thought it would be only for a short while. However, within two months, their home in Daraa was bombed and destroyed. The former school teacher and contractor had no place to return to. Their son, Tamam, and his wife, Bothina, and their two children joined them in Jordan in 2013, after they themselves fled Syria and lived briefly in a refugee camp. (Read Bothina’s story.)

GAIA Refugee Women

Life in Jordan wasn’t comfortable for Huda and Majed, who were unable to get jobs. “It was hard paying for the rent,” she says. “We spent our whole life savings, including my pension from teaching, just to live. We didn’t expect things to happen like they did.” 

The families were struggling to survive when someone at the United Nations contacted Majed and asked if he and Huda would like to move to the United States.

GAIA Refugee Women - Huda

A Lifeline and a New Start

To this day, it is unclear why that happened, but Majed said yes to that surprise inquiry, on the condition that his son and his son’s family could also relocate. It was only after a rigorous screening process, involving multiple interviews with multiple government agencies, that the six were cleared to live in the United States.

Huda says it was a confusing time for her. On one hand, she felt “happy to go to America — that’s everybody’s dream” — but at the same time she knew she would be farther from her homeland and that it would be difficult to ever return.

GAIA Refugee Women

Huda and Majed, along with their son and his family, arrived in Dallas in December 2015, after a few days in New York City, during the time when Governor Gregg Abbott was attempting to ban refugees from Texas. For the first six months, they all lived together in a single apartment. Now each couple lives in their own apartment, and Huda and Bothina both work at GAIA, sewing pouches and handbags.

GAIA Refugee Women - Huda

Though her goals and dreams are simple — good health and a stable life — and Huda says she is happy, the heartbreak of the past and present is easy to see in her pretty face when she talks about her circumstances. She deeply wishes her family could all be together.

Her daughter lives in Turkey with her grandsons. Her other son lives in Germany, where he recently got married. She hasn’t seen any of them in five years, and she fears travel restrictions on Syrian refugees mean she may never see them in person again. 

We hope that’s not the case.

GAIA Refugee Women - Huda

GAIA Refugee Artisans

Huda is currently one of eight refugee artisans whom we employ. We pay the women a living wage, and most work from home, where they are able to also care for their young children. 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 Feza and Catherin, 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

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We Are Grateful

At GAIA, we practice gratitude all year long — for our work; for our families; for our friends; for the grace, health, and happiness that can be elusive for many people, for many reasons. But this time of year — with Thanksgiving around the corner — we like to take a bit of extra time to spell out exactly the blessings in our lives. Our team invites you to read our lists and to take a moment to make a list of your own. There's scientific proof that cultivating gratitude has the power to improve your life.



1. The glorious chaos of my big, happy, & healthy family.

2. The soul-feeding joy of my work with GAIA & the inspiring women we serve.

3. God’s grace & mercy — without it, I would have none of the above.


Lauren J.

GAIA Gratitude List

1. My family! I'm thankful for cozy fall mornings in our little jewel box home with my sweet husband & puppy, Jack, as well as the ability to travel to see my family in California — a luxury that many of the refugee women I work with don’t have.

2. A job that allows me to build relationships with, & advocate for, people who are often overlooked or unnoticed, but who need and deserve care & support as they rebuild their lives in a foreign place. It is an absolute honor to work on their behalf every day.

3. Citizenship in heaven — our world is a crazy place these days. I’m thankful for an eternal perspective that gives me hope & joy & peace in the midst of uncertainty.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. A life full of love & support from my family, co-workers, friends.

2. Colin Grayson, the kindest man, who pushes me to be the best version of myself.

3. Last but certainly not least, a God who has blessed me with gifts that I can use every day.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. My friends who have stuck with me through the good & the bad, support me no matter what, & are crazy fun.

2. The opportunity to have a job with a greater purpose than just a paycheck — a purpose to help others succeed & thrive.

3. I'm most grateful for the unmerited favor of God's grace. Because of the free gift of grace, I will always be fully loved & my life is completely secure.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. My loving, hardworking, & super patient husband.

2. A year full of fun adventures all over the map. Our honeymoon in Turks & Caicos was my favorite.

3. A family that keeps my heart full of joy & belly full of laughter — including the newest member, our puppy, Izzy.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. God's mercy and unconditional love.

2. My family nearby (my loving & supporting husband & gorgeous kids) and my family who are now far — but I hope we'll be able to get together soon.

3. My new family here at GAIA, who have welcomed me & my mother-in-law in every possible way, so that I look forward to each day I come to work.


Lauren G.

GAIA Gratitude List

1. God's sweet provision in my life, in our latest adventure with a new house, which will soon allow me to indulge in my love of decorating.

2. My family of boys always keeping me on my toes but loving me through bedtime hugs.

3. Morning coffee from the hubby and family movie nights.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. What I consider the seven marvels of the world: to feel, to see, to taste, to hear, to touch, to smile, and to love.

2. My family and all their sacrifices to give me a better life — in America — and the freedom to live my American dream.

3. Art, books, movies, nature, people, and life, for inspiring me every day.



GAIA Gratitude List

1. People in my life, both friends & family, who bring me up when I'm down & always encourage me to keep pushing toward my goals & dreams.

2. The Puckett family for making me feel loved from day one & being my Dallas family away from home.

3. The inspiring and hardworking women in my life whom I can lean on (Mom, you're No. 1)




GAIA Gratitude List

1. The opportunity to pursue a master's degree.

2. My relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. My supportive family.

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Meet Catherin

Meet Catherin

Visit Catherin in her home and she will offer you a cold beverage, and either a big plate of fruit, or an exotic sugary sweet from her neighborhood market. She will sit and chat with you while her 16-month-old daughter, Juliana, bounces on her lap and drops seaweed chips at her feet. Nearby, in the corner of the living room, on a folding table, is her sewing machine and a stack of colorful fabric squares, which she will sew into Roundies for GAIA.

When Catherin talks about first arriving in Dallas, her pretty face lights up and she becomes animated. She will wave her hands when she tells you how scared she was to be in a country where she didn’t speak the language or know a single soul. She will tell you how sad she felt to be away from her mother and father. But she will do it with a smile on her face because Catherin is almost always smiling.  

Catherin GAIA Refugee Women


Catherin was the inspiration that led our founder, Paula, to create GAIA in the first place. A Burmese refugee who arrived in Dallas in April 2009 with two young children, Catherin became Paula’s mentee through the International Rescue Committee. She needed to learn English and find work, among other things. Paula wanted to help. And that’s how GAIA was born.


GAIA Refugee Women - Catherin


10+ Years in Refugee Camps

Catherin and her siblings first fled Burma for neighboring Thailand in 1995. (Burma is a republic in Southeast Asia also known as Myanmar. Civil war has raged there since the ’40s, and it is among the least developed countries in the world.) Catherin was just 16 years old. She spent more than a decade in various Thai refugee camps. During that time, she met and married her husband, and they had two children, Bambina, now 13, and Basolus, now 9.

She remembers the day an NGO group came to visit the camp where she was living. “They talked about families coming to the U.S. They said they could take a lot of people and asked us, ‘Do you want to come?’ They showed a movie, and we needed to sign a lot of papers before we could be considered,”  she says. From there, the process of immigrating to the United States took about a year. “We were interviewed three times,”  she says. “And there were lots of medical checks — X-rays and blood tests.”


GAIA Refugee Women - Catherin


A Tough Start in Texas

Catherin and her children arrived in Dallas separately from her husband, who came six months later. Sadly, he died from liver disease shortly thereafter, leaving Catherin as the sole provider for the family. She recalls that period of her life as very difficult. “We were scared, and we wanted to go back to the camps. We had to pay a lot for rent and electricity and a phone, and we had no money. The jobs available to us paid very little.”

She also recalls a time when a man broke into her home and she had to call the police. “I said all the time, ‘I want to go back.’ I wanted to be with my brothers and sisters. I really felt like I’d made a mistake.”


Catherin GAIA Refugee Women


But under Paula’s wing, Catherin found stability and hope. Her work at GAIA — initially making cloth napkins — paid a living wage, and having someone she could turn to for help made all the difference, she says. “Paula gave me a good thing.”

Life Today

Since then, Catherin and her new partner have had two more children baby Juliana and her brother Christopher, who is 5. She has also become a United States citizen, passing her citizenship test this past summer and voting for the first time in this past election. “Overjoyed”  is how she describes her feelings about that, and she laughs when she talks about the fact that Juliana or Christopher could some day be president of the United States.


Catherin GAIA Refugee Women
Catherin GAIA Refugee Women


That’s not something that ever could have been possible had the family stayed in Thailand. And though she misses her mother, whom she hasn’t seen since 1997 and who has never met any of her grandchildren, as well as her siblings, who are now scattered from Nebraska to Burma to Finland to Yemen, Catherin says she has found happiness.  

And we at GAIA are beyond happy to work with Catherin and our other refugee artisans. These women are why we exist. If you haven't already met Bothina and Feza, be sure to click over and read their stories. And keep reading for future pieces about the tenacious women who inspire us every day.

To learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help, go to

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Meet Feza

Meet Feza

Feza Ramazani was just 10 years old when she and her sister went to live in an East Africa refugee camp. The year was 1997. The girls were living with their parents and brother in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when that country exploded into war. When their community was destroyed, the girls were sent to live in Zambia. Shortly thereafter, their brother and father were killed. 

After several years in Zambia, Feza and her sister moved to a camp in Tanzania. That’s where she met her husband, Aheyo, and where their oldest child was born. In time, they relocated back to a refugee camp in Zambia, where their middle and youngest children were born.

The camps weren’t scary, Feza says. She was safe and slept well at night, but there wasn’t work. They didn’t have any money, and her children were bored. There were schools, but they weren’t very good, she says. So when she and Aheyo were chosen by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to move to the United States, they said yes. 

Feza GAIA Empowered Women

In 2012, with help from the IRC and after undergoing a rigorous screening process, the family moved to Dallas. By then, Feza had spent 15 years — most of her life — in refugee camps.

Today, the family lives in East Dallas. The children — now ages 12, 10, and 6 — are in school. Aheyo works full-time at Dr. Kracker in Plano, and Feza works from home for GAIA, making our tassel necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more.

Feza says that from day one, she loved living in the United States. “Everybody is free, and my children can go to good schools,” she says. She doesn’t miss Africa, though her mother and sister still live there, and Aheyo sometimes talks about making sure their children get to know his homeland. 

But Feza says just thinking about it makes her sad. “There are a lot of problems there,” she says. “I lost two people there. I don’t need to go back.”

Feza GAIA Empowered Women

There is no sadness in her face, however, when she talks about her life now — only joy. She shakes her braids and breaks into a huge, sweet smile when she talks about how her children tease her about her English and how they may someday go to college.

Learning a new language as an adult has been hard, and she says that at first making jewelry for GAIA was difficult. But now, she says with pride, “I’ve got it.”

Learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help at

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Meet the GAIA Fall 2016 Interns

Meet the GAIA Fall 2016 Interns

It takes a village, as they say, and interns are an important part of GAIA. Sometimes, we can't imagine getting it all done without them! Our internship program is a win-win: It allows students to learn all the ins and outs of running a growing social enterprise, and GAIA gets the invaluable benefit of not only having extra sets of hands, but also their fresh perspectives and unique ideas.

This fall, we are happy to have three smart, sweet young ladies from Texas on our team. Each brings her unique charm and energy to our office, and we are delighted to introduce them to you.

GAIA Intern Alysia 

Name: Alysia Simons

Hometown: Houston, Texas

School: Undergrad: Texas Christian University; grad: Southern Methodist University

Class of: TCU class of 2015

Area of study: Masters in school counseling, with a child specialization

Dream job: In my field, I hope to maintain a position within a school, as well as have a private practice. However, I've always said I would love to teach at a university level one day. Nerd alert!

Why you are excited to be at GAIA? To me, GAIA represents the best of both worlds: a mission to help and a passion for fashion. As an intern, I have the opportunity to be part of an insanely energizing environment of creatives, while working toward the greater purpose of empowering the refugee women of Dallas. I hope that my time here both challenges me to push new style boundaries and gives me the chance to get to know the story behind each refugee woman

Favorite GAIA product and why? It's a tie between the new Sunburst earring and the Crescent clutch. These pieces truly speak for themselves; they add a unique quality to every outfit.


 GAIA Intern Jackie

Name: Jackie Phommahaxay

Hometown: Amarillo, Texas

School: West Texas A&M University

Class of: Winter 2017 

Area of study: Mass communications (advertising and PR) 

Dream job: My dream would be to work as a brand manager in the beauty or fashion industry. But, if that doesn't work out, I'd open my own ice cream shop or food truck!

Why you are excited to be at GAIA? My parents both fled Laos in the 1980s, so this company as a whole spoke to my heart. To be able to get insight on the lives of the brave women at GAIA has truly been an eye-opening experience for me already. I will always be thankful for my parents and the things they had to endure to put me in a position to live freely. Their stories are ingrained in me and make up who I am, and I carry that through my experience here. 

Favorite GAIA product and why? Right now, I'm really loving our new Sunburst tassel earrings. They're so fun and something everyone should have in their earring collection! 


GAIA Intern Laurel

Name:  Laurel Lampasas

Hometown: Houston, Texas

School: Dallas Baptist University

Class of: 2017

Area of study: Undergrad and grad: Counseling/Christian studies

Dream job: Youth minister/college minister

Why you are excited to be at GAIA? I love being able to learn about other cultures and being relational in the process. I cherish being able to help out my Dallas community in any small shape or form, so this opportunity of growing a servant’s heart and a heart for other nations is invaluable to me!

Favorite GAIA product and why? Bag wise, I'm a huge fan of the Roundie, but my favorite jewelry piece is the hand-stitched tassel earrings in the fall collection — they're so unique! I'm in love with them and the story they have. ~

.....And possibly the highlight of our Interns' GAIA experience so far:


Curious about the refugee women who work at GAIA? Get to know them, and meet the rest of our staff, too! 

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GAIA Office Tour + Meet Our Team

GAIA Office Tour + Meet Our Team

Step into GAIA headquarters, and you’re stepping into a showroom, office, and workshop all in one. 

The first things you see are the colorful, handmade fashion and home accessories crafted by the refugee women the company employs. Shelves of clutches, bins of pouches, trays of bracelets, and racks of beaded and tassel necklaces are as enticing to fashion-loving women as candy is to kids.  


Just beyond the showroom is a space filled with the tools the team needs to take every product from cool idea to ready-to-sell. Raw materials are stacked floor to warehouse-high ceiling along one wall; two huge worktables made of door blanks and IKEA cubbies provide places for measuring and cutting textiles. Some desks hold sewing machines, others have iMacs and laptops.  


The experience is a bit like being in a taffy factory — where you can see sweet things coming together right before your eyes and leave with something wonderful, whether it’s a Pom Pom bag in your hand or a good feeling in your heart.

The women employed here agree: A lot of hard work takes place at GAIA — and lot of joy too!


“GAIA is where we are today because of our stellar team,” says founder Paula Minnis. “They’re the ones who get it all done. Their passion for serving others and dedication to the GAIA refugee women is truly remarkable — and a constant inspiration to me! Creating brighter futures and empowering women are all in a day’s work for these gals.

Let’s meet the ladies who — along with Paula — make the magic happen.


Name: Lauren Jarrett
Postion: Director of Operations

Length of time at GAIA? September marks my five-year GAIA-versary!

Describe a typical workday in six words.

Emails, textiles, women, planning, strategizing, celebrating.

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA?
The way we (Americans) do things, think about things, and act on things is largely American. Our ways are not necessarily the universal ways or even the best ways. That’s a pretty obvious statement, but working with women from such varying cultures, all of whom have differing customs, communication tactics, expectations, and needs (not to mention languages!), has made me realize just how deeply rooted my assumptions based on my American upbringing are. The same goes for the refugee women and their cultural norms. They experience this conundrum on an even larger scale, as they try to decode and function in the Western world. Certain cultural differences are obvious and therefore easily navigable. But as culturally sensitive and aware as I think I am, I am constantly confronted with challenges derived from crossed wires: things I assume to be universally understood that are purely Western, or things the women perceive as normal that are interpreted entirely differently by my American self. Though our differences can make conducting business and getting on the same page a challenge, it is always interesting and stimulating to me. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my personal life, but it's safe to say I’ve had more of an international experience while living in Dallas!

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
That’s a hard one… We laugh a lot. Our home team really enjoys each other, but I think we would all say that our favorite moments involve the women. Visiting Catherin and her precious wee ones makes my face hurt from smiling so big and my heart feel so full! Visiting Maria is always hilarious — she’s a total ham. My favorite days in the office are Wednesdays and Thursdays when Huda and Bothina come sew at GAIA HQ. They bring this humble joy with them that is contagious. 

Morning drink? 

I always arrive with hot black tea — summer heat or not! My dad is Irish and English, so tea is a given.

Afternoon habit? 

My hubby makes me an iced Americano with almond milk before work every morning. It is my lifeblood come 3 p.m.


Name: Alyssa Foreman (also know as “Ace” or “Al”)
Postion: Production and Development Manager 

Length of time at GAIA? A little over a year.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 

Textiles, refugees, singing, handwritten notes, inventory.

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA?
GAIA has taught me so much and has changed my life perspective in many ways. The most important lesson I have learned has been that circumstances shouldn’t determine someone’s worth or future. Resiliency is dependent upon one’s hard work and perseverance — and the support and love they receive from those around them. Being surrounded by brave women who have overcome life’s worst occurrences has taught me to be strong, thankful, accepting of others, and to never give up. 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
I have two favorite/fun activities. I absolutely love when the GAIA gals dream and strategize about the future of GAIA. It is so exciting to see where we have come from and the potential we can achieve. Secondly, I love spending time with the women! It is always a party when Bothina and Huda come to the office. It feels less like work and more like girl time. Also, one of my most fun moments was when I was picking up finished products from Latifa, and my quick pick-up turned into a full-blown breakfast with her. She makes the best morning bread! 

Morning drink? 

Every morning I come in with a coffee and green smoothie in hand. 

Afternoon habit?
Eating an apple with peanut butter or grabbing a coffee.


Name: Lauren “Huddy” Huddleston

Position: Jewelry Specialist 

How long have you worked at GAIA? Six months.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 
It’s not work if I’m having fun! (OK, that was seven.)

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA? 
GAIA has taught me to reach out of my comfort zone creatively and socially. I create jewelry while incorporating textiles. And using a sewing machine? I'm still working on that part! 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work?
Every day is fun at GAIA because I have made such great friends here. Recently, I was working with Feza, and her children, Adija and John Michael, came downstairs to visit with me. We talked about how nervous they were to go into kindergarten and fourth grade. They are so cute, and hearing their funny stories about school always makes my week! 

Morning drink?
I love a berry La Croix, but sometimes I have a coffee with a lot of hazelnut sweetener! 

Afternoon habit?
I crave something athletic to reboot my brain. It makes me more productive for the afternoon. 


Name: Johnna Sheppard
Postion: Production Specialist

Length of time at GAIA: One month.

Describe a typical workday in six words. 
Implementing new systems; learning the ropes! 

What’s one thing you’ve learned at GAIA? 
I'm learning so much about GAIA — the products, textiles, production, etc. What I value most is learning about the refugee women, their personal stories, and their culture. 

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had at work? 
One of the best parts of working at GAIA is being around the people I work with. 

Morning drink?


Afternoon habit? 
I like a La Croix in the afternoon — love the bubbles. 


Curious about the refugee women who work at GAIA? We thought you might be

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Meet Bothina

Meet Bothina

Imagine packing to go away for a couple of months. You gather your favorite outfits, some shoes, your toothbrush, and few other things. You put them in your bag.

You don’t pack your photo albums. You don’t pack precious family treasures. You just put in the bag what you need to get by. You leave your sentimental items — and even your valuables — at home. You will, after all, be back soon.

That’s what Bothina Matar and her husband, Tamam, thought when they took their two small children to Jordan from their home in Syria in 2013. “We didn’t think we were going forever,”  she says. “We thought we would be gone a few months, and everything would be worked out.”

Then a bomb destroyed their house.

Quick Decision

Before the crisis in Syria started in 2011, “it was a good life,”  Bothina says, her beautiful, open face belying the horror she has endured in the last five years. “It was a peaceful, calm life. I had my family around. We were happy.” 

For two years after the fighting began, Bothina and Tamam refused to consider leaving the country where they were born. Tamam also refused to comply with Syria’s compulsory military requirement. But when the government began to aggressively seek those who had skipped, looking for Tamam by name, they felt they had no choice. “The day before we fled to Jordan, they came to our door,”  Bothina recalls. “The next day, we decided to leave.”


Hiding from the government and living in a war zone were tremendously difficult, but things hardly improved after Bothina and Tamam snuck across the illegal border into their neighboring country. 

Because Tamam was a fugitive, they could not cross the Syria-Jordan border legally, which meant they were forced into a refugee camp, where conditions were deplorable, Bothina says. “I couldn’t stand it for even one day. It was so horrible. I kept crying. My children were crying.”

And so, in the dark of night, they snuck through wire fences, evaded the Jordanian police, and walked until Tamam’s father, who was living legally in Jordan, could pick them up.

A Call from the UN

For the next couple of years, Bothina and Tamam worked only sporadically in Jordan, which has laws against employing Syrians. They tried to repair their immigration status. And they kept hoping that the war would end and they’d be able to go home. But, Bothina says, “after two years in Jordan, we start to realized that things were more complicated in Syria than even before and that we wouldn’t be able to go back.”   To make matters worse, circumstances for Syrians in Jordan were disintegrating. Topping it all off: Tamam didn’t have a passport, and without one he couldn’t leave Jordan. 

Then Tamam’s father got a call from the United Nations asking him if he and his wife would like to go to the United States. He said he would, but only if Tamam and his family could go too. 


Bothina says they will never know why the UN called her father-in-law; there were a lot of people who had signed up for a transfer with the UN. Because of Tamam’s lacking a passport, “it was the only opportunity for us,”  Bothina says.

It took a year after that call for the six of them — Bothina, Tamam, their two children, and Tamam’s parents — to clear rigorous screenings with multiple agencies for the United States, answering hundreds of questions about their lives. They arrived in New York in early December 2015 with the expectation of traveling to Texas right away.

Trouble in Texas

Bothina’s uncle was living in Dallas when she and her family got to the United States. They wanted to be near him. But Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that he would not allow Syrian refugees into the state. That decision, however, was not his to make. The Refugee Act of 1980 gives the federal government alone the power to admit refugees into this country. Try as he would, Abbott could not stop Bothina and her family from moving to Dallas.

That’s not to say that it was easy.

After four days in New York, which Tamam recalls as happy ones, when they felt at last they were safe, they flew to Austin and then drove to Dallas in an effort to avoid media attention. 


That was frustrating, Bothina recalls.

“It was confusing, and it was overwhelming,”  Bothina says in a video for the International Rescue Committee, an organization that assists refugee families in crisis, and which has resettled all of the refugee women GAIA employs. “We always heard about America as the land of freedom, the land of no racism …”

And yet, once her family was finally in the United States, “I felt like we were stilling running and still hiding. We wanted to start over, but things were holding us back.”


Nine Months Later

Today, life is much more settled for Bothina and her family. 

“We left our country because of fear and lack of security, and we came here looking for safety, jobs, and security for our children,”  Tamam says in the IRC video.

They have found all of that and more.

In January of this year, Bothina began working at GAIA, where she — alongside her mother-in-law — sews pouches, pillows, and the newly launched Mini Hearts and Mini Kitties for our brand. Tamam is employed at an air conditioning company. The couple lives in Northeast Dallas, where their two children are both enrolled in school. They have made friends. 

“I miss home,”  Bothina says, “but I am happy.”

And we at GAIA are so happy to have her and the other refugee women who produce our collection. Though we love fashion, these women are why we exist. In the months ahead, we will introduce you to Bothnia’s mother-in-law, Huda, as well as the others who give us our purpose. Stay tuned for more of their amazing stories.

Learn more about about refugee resettlement and how you can help at

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The GAIA Blog Debuts

The GAIA Blog Debuts

Welcome to our first (and way overdue) GAIA blog post!

In the almost six years since founding GAIA, blogging just never made it very high on my priority list. However, if there ever was a business that needed a blog, it's GAIA! A blog is for sharing stories, and the “story” of GAIA is pretty important — it’s why we’re here, after all.

GAIA Empowered Women was founded to create brighter futures for refugee women resettled in the United States. We exist to help refugees rebuild their lives in our community through dignified work but not just any work — the meaningful, fulfilling kind that pays a living wage. We aim to pave a path to self-sufficiency and financial independence so refugee women and their families can flourish in their new home.

Bottom line: We’re helping refugees change their stories for the better.  

And what better way to do it, than through fashion?! Fashion is fun, uplifting, and transformative in so many ways. It can make you feel beautiful, confident, and the best version of yourself. But how much more meaningful does fashion become when you know the story of the person whose hands crafted it — and whose life was positively affected as a result of your purchase?

These are the stories we aim to share. We’ll also tell you about our design inspiration and process, collaborations, and other cool news. But the most important stories — the ones that will stay with you and warm your heart — are about the women we employ. 

We’ll introduce you to Catherin, a Burmese refugee I began mentoring in 2009, whose remarkable spirit and gentle strength inspired me to create GAIA in the first place (we started with cloth napkins!).

You’ll meet Feza, who spent 15 years living in multiple refugee camps across Africa after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She now drives her children to school every day, and finds absolute joy in it. (Moms, if this won’t make you think twice about carpool complaints …)

We’ll tell you all about Latifa, who arrived to the United States from Iraq in 2010, stoic and shell-shocked. Cut to five years later: We’re watching (and weeping) as she takes her oath to become a United States citizen!

You’ll also get to know Bothina and Huda, Syrian refugees who endured a horrific journey that would break even the strongest o us, yet they remain positive and gracious as they come to work every day in the GAIA studio. There's a lot of laughter shared at the studio with these gals; I think they crack up the most at the goofy antics of the GAIA staff (whom you’ll meet as well!)

Each of these brave women’s experiences before arriving to the United States was traumatic — and unfathomable to most of us. Out of 21 million refugees worldwide, they were part of the 1 percent fortunate enough to be officially resettled. Then they faced the daunting task of adjusting to life in a new country — completely starting over — with some learning to use a stove, elevator, or ATM for the first time. Oh, the things we take for granted! Their faith and optimism throughout it all never ceases to amaze me. It is truly humbling to work alongside these resilient women, and I’m a better person for knowing them. 

I can’t wait to help you get to know them as well.


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