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~ GAIA Goodness ~

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

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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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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 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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