Meet the Syrian refugees hand-sewing vital PPE for Edinburgh's medical centres

Newly-arrived refugees say they want to help Scotland in fight against virus

By Shona Elliott
Saturday, 11th July 2020, 2:55 pm
Updated Saturday, 11th July 2020, 2:55 pm

They have come from a land blighted by bombs and heartache.

But already newly-arrived Syrian refugees are using their first months in Edinburgh to hand-sew vital PPE for medical practices facing critical shortages.

Seamstresses by trade, Youssra Mahmoud and Nadea Mansour arrived in the city as the lockdown began in March and quickly signed up to a sewing project run by Re-Act: Refugee Action Scotland to utilise their skills.

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Seven refugee families from Edinburgh are helping protect the city by donating tailor-made face masks to community groups.

The project includes nine families from the city’s Syrian and Kurdish communities who are hand-stitching high-quality face coverings to help protect essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hundreds of brightly coloured masks have already been delivered to medical practices including Niddrie Medical Centre and Durham Road Medical Group.

Everyone involved is freely donating their own time to the project, which has been part-funded by Foundation Scotland and the National Emergencies.

Sawsan Osso fled from Aleppo to Beirut in 2012, and, after two-and-a-half years in Lebanon, she was chosen to come to Edinburgh.

Re-Act. Niddrie Medical Centre Staff.

The 38-year-old now lives in Craigmillar with her two daughters Sara, five and Maggie, four and says she “loves this beautiful city”.

The mother-of-two works as a liaison officer for Re-Act welcoming new refugees to the city and is in charge of the sewing group.

Sawsan said: “In March two new women arrived from Aleppo, this is, of course, a very difficult time to arrive in a new country.

“They were extremely isolated and bored. They told me they wanted to do something useful and, as they are both trained tailors, I got them involved in our sewing club which they really enjoy.”

The project worker now delivers new material to each household every week and said that this small interaction is a vital lifeline to them.

She said: “They didn’t get a chance to meet other families when they arrived and were completely isolated, so meeting people at the door to deliver fabric and retrieve masks is very valuable to them and helps them feel part of the community.

“When we told them where the masks were going they said that they were ‘very happy to be able to do this for Scotland’.”

Since the Scottish Government announced that face coverings are now compulsory on public transport and in shops the team has been working around the clock to ensure every member of Edinburgh’s community has access to a mask.

Aeda Labinia is also a member of the club and says she is pleased to be able to use her abilities to give back to society.

The 65-year-old arrived from Aleppo five years ago having spent 24 years working as a primary teacher in Syria.

The mother-of-five who proudly says “all of my children have a higher education degree” has made over 150 masks since the project began.

She said: “By the time Covid-19 began to spread all over the city I was keen to help in any way I could, in order to protect myself and everyone around me.”

“My story with sewing began when I gave birth to my first daughter back in 1976. I started learning how to sew clothes by myself.”

Aeda went on to say that she is looking forward to life in the city returning to normal and that she is pleased to be able to contribute to Edinburgh’s efforts during the pandemic.

She said: “During the pandemic, my daily life has changed, especially with applying social distancing when taking a walk or going for a shopping trip.”

She added: “I’m very happy to see Edinburgh society is reopening.

“And of course, I believe strongly in giving back to society with my abilities.”

To date, the ambitious project has delivered nearly 1000 facial coverings to medical practices in Edinburgh as well as to Intercultural Youth Scotland, a youth-led charity supporting young Scots during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Director of Re-Act Liz McArthur said: “Continuous communication between the community and Re-Act has been essential to this project and it has been an absolute delight to get it off the ground. It’s truly been a family effort for many.”

Sawsan Osso said she is very proud of the refugee’s work and added: “As a community, we’re so happy to be able to give back to the city we call home, playing a part in Scotland coming together to beat this virus”

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