Weaving 1000 Scarves: intertwining for change, one piece of fabric at a time

We are sitting around a table, and scraps of scarf fabric are flying everywhere. They are being weaved into beautiful little squares as the rain comes down outside.

One day, these little weavings will be made into a large piece of art to be displayed as part of an awareness campaign by the charity organization Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland (SOHTIS).

By Olivia Sykes, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer

I had the pleasure of speaking to Gill Houlsby from SOHTIS, who told me all about the organisation and this project. SOHTIS is a charity which supports survivors of human trafficking through a variety of means, led by the three pillars of short-term support, long-term integration, and policy change.

This particular project, Weaving 1000 Scarves, is a creative way to upcycle fabric which can often be overlooked, disregarded or hidden in plain sight, just like survivors of human trafficking. A scarf is a universal object, so simple and yet used in some capacity in nearly every culture around the world. Each individual piece of weaving is a demonstration of solidarity and support for trafficking survivors and will helps raise funds and awareness for SOHTIS’ work.

When faced with a hurdle as big and complex as human trafficking, it’s easy to feel powerless. This project offers a small and easy way to make a difference by creating something real and tangible. The simple act of weaving binds can people together, no matter who we are and even if we don’t all speak the same language.

As Gill so wonderfully explained: “You don’t have to be loud to have an impact.”

The finished weavings will be displayed in locations across the country. SOHTIS would ultimately like the work to appear in each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, as cases of human trafficking have been reported in every single one.

Human trafficking is often viewed as a problem which happens in faraway places to faraway people, but it is quite the opposite. It happens everywhere, including where you are from. People fleeing war and persecution are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked and many survivors of human trafficking go on to claim refugee protection. Anyone can fall victim to this atrocity. That’s why it’s so important for the ‘Weaving 1000 Scarves’ project to be seen and heard all our communities.

Gill introduced me to Joy Gillespie, the CEO of SOHTIS and also the brain behind the Weaving 1000 Scarves project. She was welcoming and kind and told me that the organisation’s primary concern is about support and action. Their motto is: “everyone deserves to live with freedom, dignity and respect”.

Joy explained that this project is not only about raising awareness. It is also about giving back control to those who have had it taken away from them. A scarf is not only a universal symbol, but for many it is complex and has a history connected to oppression.

Joy told me: “It began in many ways as a sweat cloth and a representation of labour exploitation, but now it really has a feeling of power”.

She explained that SOHTIS is an organisation cantered around hope. Hope is powerful, just like this project. Spreading awareness does not always have to be fearsome and mighty. It can be soft and comforting too.

This project is a new take on awareness raising. An attempt to shift the narrative around human trafficking from one of sadness and oppression to something more positive and optimistic. I want to echo something Joy said to me: “Freedom is being able to live the rest of your life”. Living is not being shrouded in darkness, but figuring out how to let the light come in.

Collective action and activism doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be tinged with anger and despair. It can be a shining beacon, or a colourful display of scarves. It can be quiet, creative, and done by anyone.

I look at the group sitting around the table with me. Most of us have never done this type of weaving before. It is so simple to learn and yet so effective. Sometimes the most ordinary objects make people look the closest.

On their own, these little pieces of weaving will fray and unravel, unable to achieve much. But when they come together, they become beautiful artwork, bound together by culture, teamwork, and community.

If you would like to take part in the Weaving 1000 Scarves project, or have any ideas about where the finished weaving could be displayed, contact SOHTIS at development@sohtis.org.