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Meet the guy who helps refugees by creating fashion items out of their life jackets

Meet the guy who helps refugees by creating fashion items out of their life jackets
February 28, 2020 coraandkrist

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Meet the guy who helps refugees by creating fashion items out of their life jackets

Mohamed Malim is the founder of Epimonia, a company that makes hats, bracelets, T-shirts, and more from recycled refugee life jackets. Half of the profits go to organizations helping refugees, such as The Dream Refugee Mentorship Program and Refugees4Refugees.

A refugee himself, Malim will give a talk on “Changing the Refugee Narrative through Fashion” at noon Monday at Brown University’s Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer St., Providence.

He answered the following questions from the Globe:

Question: What is the main point you plan to make when you speak at Brown?

Answer: All I have ever wanted to do was make the world a better place by helping those in need. My family struggled through the refugee experience, and now I have created my own company to help refugees in need. I want to show refugees like me that there is hope, people do care about them, and if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Also, I want to emphasize that college students can make a difference in their communities. Students can play a role in the refugee crisis by volunteering in their local communities and making a small impact in the lives of refugees. That’s a difference that can last a lifetime.

Q: Tell us about your experience as a refugee.

A: My family’s journey took us out of Somalia and into Kenya to escape from a civil war. As a child, I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. My family and I were placed in the largest refugee complex in the world — in Dadaab, Kenya — and it became our home. Basic necessities such as clean running water, food, and basic medications were scarce. At the age of 3, I experienced that when it comes to war, mercy doesn’t exist. Nights of starvation, fear, and hopelessness were an everlasting theme.

Many of my memories came from the stories my mother told me. My mother still remembers the cries of babies who were starving to death, and the agony of not being able to help them. My mother would sometimes go out in the middle of the night to find food for our family, sacrificing her safety, only so that we would have enough to make it to see another day.

I am the oldest of six siblings — three boys and three girls. Shortly after my first brother was born, my parents were fortunate enough for our name to be drawn in the lottery system by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Q: Tell us about coming to the United States.

A: Our first year in the United States was in Houston, Texas. We were then sponsored by the Lutheran Church, which brought us to our permanent home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minneapolis-St.Paul is the home of the second largest Somali population outside of Somalia.

We thought that, after coming to America, everything in life would be so easy. We thought we would be rewarded for all the hardships we endured. But that was not the case. Although life here is great, life in America came with a new set of challenges that we had to face.

But my parents learned a new language, found jobs, and a home where they could raise us. My dad was able to support the family through an hourly job at the airport, and my mother set out to raise the family. It is amazing how this is the story of so many refugees, just like me and my family, who remained resilient when the odds were against them. My family’s obstacles have taught me to always believe in my dreams and to never give up.

My mother’s dream was for my siblings and I to obtain a proper education, a roof over our heads, and never to worry about food on our plates. It means everything in the world that my mother’s dream is now becoming a reality.

Q: When did you launch Epimonia and what products does it sell?

A: We launched Epimonia in December of 2017. We recycle refugee life jackets into bracelets, beanies, and other fashion items, mixing style and philanthropy. We also have drawstring bags, hats, and T-shirts available. Fifty percent of the profit from the sale of all Epimonia products is given to our nonprofit partners, who focus on providing critical support for families and children of refugees in the United States. The company is based in Minneapolis.

Q: Where were the recycled life jackets collected?

A: The recycled life jackets were collected on Lesbos Island by Refugee4Refugees in Greece, an area that has become a central destination for refugees and, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, sees a rate of 3,300 refugees per day.

Q: How many displaced people and refugees are there in the world right now, and what is the main thing the United States could do to help?

A: According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 70.8 million forcibly displaced people in the world – 25.9 million of those people are refugees. The United States could lend a hand in the area of basic needs. Simply by providing aid to the nonprofits that already help refugees with shelter, food and water, clothing, health screenings, English classes, and enrollment in school.