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Volume 7, No. 1SPRING 2004

Jobs, training pave way to
brighter future in West Bank

Tahrir removes her bee-keeper’s veil during an IOCC-led workshop. Women trainees in the West Bank receive beehives and other equipment to help them get started in bee keeping as a vocation. Photos: Paul Jeffrey-ACT

Jerusalem (IOCC) — If the village of Beit Liqya is emblematic of the troubles afflicting the West Bank today, it also symbolizes the new hope and opportunity that has resulted from IOCC’s rural development project there over the past two years.

Just northwest of Jerusalem, the agricultural village is home to abundant olive groves and hosts of unemployed laborers who used to work in Israel. The September 2000 intifada (“uprising”), and Israeli’s response of closures and curfews, precipitated an economic crisis in the village of 8,000 — as it did in villages across the West Bank whose residents no longer had the freedom of movement they once enjoyed.

Villagers needed jobs to support their families, even as other needs challenged the leadership of Beit Liqya. Faced with a growing population of children, the village looked for ways to increase its classroom space. IOCC, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and village organizations, crafted a joint project that offered both short-term benefits for village families (construction jobs) and long-term benefits for their children (new classrooms).

“We want educated women to raise an educated generation for the future of our country,” said Murshed, whose company won the contract to build the extra classrooms. “I am a father with two daughters here; this is the least I can do for my village.”

IOCC projects like the one in Beit Liqya have been replicated in 24 rural, isolated villages throughout the West Bank since February 2002, resulting in the creation of meaningful jobs; the construction of community centers, health clinics and libraries; improved infrastructure such as roads and retaining walls; a cleaner environment; and the training of women in traditional handicraft and home-based agriculture skills.

“We developed this project with an eye toward the long-term impact of emergency employment,” said Pascalis “Lee” Papouras, assistant program manager for IOCC-Jerusalem/West Bank. “And the impact has been amazing: The construction jobs are finite, but the output of the construction has real long-term benefits; the agricultural roads, once built, ensure that the farmers can reach their olive trees or fields.”

Nowhere has the long-term impact of the IOCC project been felt more than in the training of women, said IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou, who recently visited Jerusalem and the West Bank. “IOCC and its local partners have trained more than 1,000 women in embroidery, public health, environmental awareness and agricultural skills, including bee-keeping,” he said.

The result for women such as Waseela, who lives in the village of Beita, is both personal and economic empowerment. A 39-year-old mother of five, Waseela received training in traditional Palestinian embroidery at an IOCC-led workshop and soon became a trainer herself.

“These handicraft skills are tools to overcome need,” said Waseela, whose trainees included her own daughters. “I want to prepare my daughters for the future.”

The trained women have since formed cooperatives and are marketing their products through the Melia Art & Training Center, a longtime IOCC partner located in the Old City of Jerusalem.

“Nearing the close of the second year of the project, women who were once too timid to speak are standing up in the middle of the committee of elders and voicing their opinions and stating their needs clearly — as mothers, as daughters of the elderly, as wives,” Papouras said. “We’ve had women come up to us and say, ‘We never truly understood our place in society. Now we understand much better what our job is in the family sphere and beyond.’”

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