From left, Rachel Hile, Alec Cattarin, Jessica Dahl and Esther Filip during a video shoot for a fundraiser for a trip to Lebanon. The three women traveled to Syrian refugee camps in the country to distribute sweaters and teach women how to cut and style hair, while Cattarin filmed the video. Courtesy of Esther Filip

Local women travel to Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon

With so much hardship around the world, Esther Filip, and Bellevue residents Rachel Hile and Jessica Dahl wanted to do their part to help those in need.

On Sept. 10, they did just that.

Since then, the three have been helping Syrian refugee women in Lebanon. Hile an Dahl plan to return Sept. 25.

$30K in 30 Days

Two years ago, the Syrian refugee crisis prompted Filip to take action.

The former Eastside resident, who now lives in Seattle, said so many discussions surrounding the issue were becoming politicized but for her it was just about helping people.

So she launched a fundraising effort on the crowd sourcing website, Kickstarter.com. Because it was during the winter, she thought one way to help was give people a way to stay warm.

She came up with a model similar to Toms shoes in which the company provides a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased — except with sweaters.

The Kickstarter campaign raised $30,000 in 30 days, “which kind of blew my mind,” Filip said.

A few months later, she traveled to Germany and visited Syrian refugee camps, distributing sweaters and a drawstring bag to the residents.

When she returned stateside, Filip said people still wanted to contribute. So she founded If Not For Love, a nonprofit that continues that same one-for-one model in which they provide a sweater and bag for refugees for each one purchased from their website.

Since the organization was founded, If Not For Love sweaters have been distributed at various refugee camps including in Jordan and Iraq. Filip said they have also distributed T-shirts at a camp in Thailand as sweaters would not be practical in the tropical climate.

Filip noted that while providing sweaters or T-shirts may not be a solution for people’s problems, it does provide them with something special and tangible and a way to connect with others — especially when they know they are wearing the same thing as someone else in the world.

Teaming up

Co-founders of The Beyond Project, a project meant to bring relief to the Seattle homeless population, teamed up with Filip for the trip to Lebanon.

“They kind of called me, just out of the blue,” Filip said about how she connected with the other two women a few months ago. “I just said yes (to the trip).”

Dahl said the three of them have mutual friends, which is how they knew about what Filip was doing through her organization.

Through this trip, Filip will distribute sweaters but the trio will also provide an opportunity for people to help themselves.

Fishing vs. a Fish

The work Hile and Dahl, who both live in the Bellevue area, have done through The Beyond Project has allowed them to use their background as hair stylists to help others.

The organization works with marginalized populations, such as those who are homeless and, up until now, has focused on providing haircuts, makeup services and educating people about nutrition and fitness.

Hile and Dahl have done projects in Kirkland, Bothell and Redmond and have worked with various organizations including Special Delivery in Woodinville and Friends of Youth throughout the Eastside.

This trip to Lebanon was the first time Hile and Dahl would teach people how to fish, rather than giving them a fish — so to speak.

Hile said one of the things she learned prior to the trip is that there are more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon — which is about the size of Vermont — and about two-thirds of those people are women and children. She also learned that the women need vocational skills. Even if someone had a highly skilled job prior to leaving Syria, Hile said it doesn’t transfer to a refugee camp environment unless it is a vocational, or tangible, skill.

By teaching women how to cut hair, Hile said they are providing a skill the women can make money or barter with to help their families.

The trip is the first time she and Dahl will train and teach people what they do. Hile said this is because in the United States, there are parameters to become a stylist and you have to have a license, whereas the circumstances are different in a refugee camp.

Dahl said they believe in empowering women. And by providing them with a skill and trade that could help them provide for their family; it helps give them hope for the future.

“We just want to remind everyone that there’s always an opportunity to serve,” Hile said about what they do. “Any way you know how.”

Hile, Dahl and Filip are still raising money to fund their trip. To contribute, visit www.gofundme.com/lovelebanon.

One of the things The Beyond Project does is cut and style hair of marginalized populations such as the homeless. Courtesy of The Beyond Project

If Not for Love distributes sweaters and t-shirts to refugees around the world. Courtesy of If Not for Love

Jessica Dahl of The Beyond Project instructs a student in Lebanon on how to cut hair. Courtesy of Rachel Hile

Rachel Hile of The Beyond Project oversees a student in Lebanon learning how to cut and style hair. Courtesy of Rachel Hile

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