LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Immigrating or seeking refuge in a new country can present many challenges. A Louisville Christian ministry is helping to ease challenges for female refugees in Kentucky. It's providing them with jobs regardless if they speak English or not.

What You Need To Know

  • Maya Collection was founded in 2009 as a Christian ministry to help refugees gain a living for their family by making handmade goods

  • Karen Aroh is the founder and director of Maya Collection and she saw a need to help refugees in Louisville

  • Hadeel Alalayawi’s first job when immigrating from Iraq to American was at Maya Collection

  • Alalayawi serves as a supervisor at the ministry

Hadeel Alalayawi takes her time to wipe wooden pieces of jewelry at Maya Collection in Louisville, it’s a job she’s done since moving to the city in 2015. Maya Collection serves an array of refugees from Nepal, Afghanistan and is located on Louisville’s south end in the basement of Hope Collaborative. 

“So these are clean, you see the difference between them?" Alalayawi said.

In November 2015, she immigrated from Iraq to America with her husband and four kids. Alalayawi also started working at Maya Collection as an artisan, after a friend recommended it.

“Yeah the jump ring is not good, I want a circle, not bent! So that one is better, that one no. Put it here, ok?” Alalayawi said.

A light shines inside the Maya Collection shop. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)
A light shines inside the Maya Collection shop. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

Now Alalayawi is a supervisor at Maya Collection, which is a ministry that teaches refugees & immigrants crafting skills like making jewelry, sewing and making handmade soap. It allows them to make a living for their families and gain valuable entrepreneurship skills. 

Alalayawi said because of the language barrier the job search was a headache for people like her. 

“But when you have friends it’s [immigrating to America] easier. This is why I started to come here and meet some friends and do some crafting and it’s easier now,” Alalayawi said.

One of Alalayawi’s friends is Karen Aroh, who is the founder and director of Maya Collection. 

She founded the ministry in 2009 because she saw a need to give refugees a job, regardless if they could speak English or not. Aroh knew they needed to make a living for their families. Artisans get paid $10 to $15 an hour depending on skills, how much they make. According to the city of Louisville's most recent data from Oct. 1, 2018 until Sept. 30, 2019, 647 people arrived as refugees.

“We pay them fairly so I look at how much time it takes for the different things they’re making. Each woman, we look at their gifts and skills and we try to give them products that we know they will excel at. We want them to be successful so we look at that, we look at the time and we pay them accordingly,” Aroh said.

The items that are made end up in the Maya Collection shop or the artisans sell items on their own. Tracy Baechle is Maya Collection’s assistant director, and helps run the shop and ministry.

“They’re the ones who really put the tears, blood and sweat into the shop. Everything you see here is all handmade by them and this is how these women support their families,” Baechle said.

It’s something Alalayawi will always be grateful for, but it doesn’t stop her from missing home.

“It’s really a great place to start but we still miss everything over there, families, food and a lot of memories,” Alalayawi said.

Alalayawi will give way for new memories to be made at Maya Collection. 

You can purchase the handmade goods at Maya Collection here. If you are a refugee looking to join Maya Collection you can go to their Facebook or Instagram page or contact Karen Aroh at mayalouisville@gmail.com.