Location of artisan makers: Uganda (South Sudanese refugees)
The Milaya Project is a non-profit working with female artists living in Bidibidi settlement in Uganda, the second largest refugee camp in the world. In 2016, as a peace deal in South Sudan crumbled, hundreds of thousands of people fled into Uganda. In a sprawling refugee camp in Uganda, National Geographic photographer Nora Lorek asked residents what they’d brought from home when the fighting broke out. “Nothing,” one woman replied, “except for some clothes wrapped in my bedsheet.” Before the war, these milayas were used for dowries and celebrations, but now they held the refugees’ last possessions. Lorek and writer Nina Strochlic published a story about the tradition in National Geographic and received a flood of inquires from readers hoping to purchase them. In 2019, they launched the Milaya Project to connect refugee artists with international customers. The Milaya Project is a registered NGO run on a volunteer basis. All profits return to the artisans.