Powerful stories about women and female youth witnessing change in their lives as a result of GROW’s interventions.
Hand-rolled and richly flavored croissant is just one of the different western patisseries the 39-year old Palestinian Heyam Ahmad Ali Hamideh, from Doha village in Bethlehem, masters. Heyam remembers how it all started, “Baking western pastries was absolutely not my typical career choice as a Palestinian woman. In fact, this choice was far away from my educational background. In 2005, I completed my bachelor’s degree in information systems from Al-Quds Open University, with high aspirations to become a teacher. After graduation and for more than eight years, I worked as part-time substitute teacher, but I was never able to secure long-term employment with my specialization.” Click on title to read full story.
Along the busy streets of Dura community, located close to Hebron city in the West Bank, Dura Cooperative Association for Agricultural Production operates a local market shop with all its locally made products of hand-rolled Maftoul (cous cous), labneh and dried yoghurt, as well as molasses, Za’tar, dried herbs and jams. Click on title to read full story.
“Are you pregnant?” was the question that altered the life of the 34-year old Hadeer Ahmad from Tulkarem city. Smiling while remembering this incident that happened in 2006, Hadeer narrates, “After obtaining a financial and banking diploma in 2005, I got married and a year later, I had an interview at a Bank in the city. The interview went very well, and I was hoping to be offered a position. But the question, “are you pregnant?” limited my abilities as a woman in their eyes, as I discovered later that the bank refrained from employing me because of my pregnancy. I applied for many positions after that, but, unfortunately, never had an offer, until one day when I started helping my cousin in her small handicraft business. I realized that I could also be an independent entrepreneur if I want to.” Click on title to read full story.
A shy smile and a low voice welcome you as you enter the small spice shop of Latifa Al-Qasem, a 30-year old single Palestinian woman from Hares village in Salfit, north of West Bank. “Why work? Why bother? These were the words my father uttered when I wanted to open a spice shop. The idea might have seemed a spur of the moment as I was inspired to venture into my own business in selling spices when we once had guests during Ramadan in 2013 and ran out of spices while cooking and couldn’t find a shop in our village. Today, my business reflects my journey to find suitable employment that immediately began as soon as I graduated from high school with low scores that only enabled me to enrol in a vocational training center in Salfit, where I’ve learnt tailoring and handmade crafts.” Click on title to read full story.
In a room inside her house, where you can find fresh and pale mushrooms peeping out of the hanging beds, and the smell of fermented yeast is so strong that it makes you feel like you’re in a different world, Ghada Obeid, the 46-year old mother of five children, from Anabta village in Tulkarem remembers the source of her passion that triggered her to start cultivating mushrooms. She says, “I was born in Kuwait and I used to love going to the supermarket with my father, just to look at the mushroom stand. I wanted to continue my university education, but I became busy raising my five children that all have now completed their university education in communication, journalism and radiology. Although my husband has a degree in medical analysis, since 1985 he only worked for three years with low salaries and was unable to find a job later and has since been a daily wage worker in Israel. Click on title to read full story.
In partnership with the Ministry of Education (MoE), GROW has supported four women’s associations to run 16 school canteens in the West Bank. To enable women’s associations to operationalize the canteens, a needs assessment was conducted at each selected school canteen in cooperation with MoE. The process of supporting women’s associations as part of the GROW project is to provide training as well as start-up support consisting of kitchen tools/ equipment and modest start-up grants (with an overall value of USD3,300 per canteen). In the village of Beita, 13 kilometers southeast of Nablus, Beita Women Development Society (BWDS), established in 2007, runs four school canteens operated by 12 women. Blanka Omar, the principle of Beita Primary Mixed School in Nablus is pleased with the partnership established with the association. She says, “As the school director for nine years, I honestly believe that this is one of the most successful years in school canteen management. Despite our experience with BWDS that had previously run a canteen in this school, this year has a different taste! The process is more organized. Canteen workers are more qualified, and the association’s follow up to their performance and work is better. The menu is diverse and includes homemade meals, which are highly demanded by students. At the beginning, I was skeptical, but the canteen was successful, particularly as the meals are nutritious. MoE school health department regularly monitors the canteen and are satisfied with its performance. Parents were also happy and were confident that their children are buying healthy and clean meals. I’m confident that this is a successful experience.” Click on title to read full story.
Esees Audeh is a 28-year-old Palestinian woman from Saida village in Tulkarem. Despite her educational background in political science, she was always passionate about and gifted in the art of baking and making sweets. She started baking for family occasions and friends, but the idea that she could do it as a business came in an unexpected way. After her graduation from Birzeit University in 2013, her struggle as a young female Palestinian graduate to find decent employment opportunities began.
Roaa is a 25-year-old entrepreneur from Jenin. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in accounting from al Quds Open University, Roaa began her journey as an entrepreneur together with a designer friend of hers. In 2015, they opened their own shop in Jenin, producing designer “Abaya” dresses. Roaa generated the ideas while her partner designed them. The shop showed great success despite the worries of her mother, two brothers and four sisters. Due to personal circumstances, however, her designer partner had to leave, and they ended the partnership and closed the shop. Roaa knew how important financial independence was for a woman, so she applied for a job as a clothing shop clerk where she continues to work. Since she was a child, Roaa was interested in making sweets. Her first experience was during seventh grade, when she made her first cake using her mother’s recipe but improved upon it to create a novel taste. In 2017, she began posting her handmade desserts to her Instagram page, and received great feedback from the community. In March 2019, Roaa began to supply her sweets and pastries to a local café in Jenin named Kafka, a cultural and innovative space for youth started by four young women. Roaa now makes about 1000-1200 NIS per month by selling her products to Kafka. She supplies the shop with cinnamon rolls, focaccia, milk cake, tart pastry, chicken burgers and French bread. Click on title to read full story.
After meeting at an exhibition in Ramallah in 2016, Ola Daoud and Fatima Zahalqeh became very close friends, paving their way towards an incredible partnership that resulted in a small start-up in cake bakery and sweets, now called “La Dolce”. They say passion is what makes a person come alive and this rings true in Ola and Fatima’s case.Before 2016, Ola and Fatima were separately running their home-based businesses in cake bakery. 35-year-old Ola, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, started her business “Ola Cake” three years before meeting Fatima. It was the first step towards her calling to find her identity after experiencing difficult times upon the death of her brother when she was only sixteen. In 2013, Ola woke up one day with an internal drive to start her business in cake bakery, which became a passion as she started baking for the family’s kids. “For years, I have felt an immense emptiness, a longing to search for my true calling and identity until I decided to open my home-based business in cake bakery,” she recalls. “Surprised by my decision, my parents were worried about the challenges facing me ahead. Although deep inside I was also scared to fail, I became more determined. It was not an easy path, and I slowly grew my business that gradually started generating good income.” Click on title to read full story.
Growing up as a child with diabetes, and later living with hypertension and rheumatism, a husband suffering from high blood pressure, two children inheriting Familial Mediterranean Fever, and another enduring Hepatomegaly, 47-year-old Inaam Abu Musallam from Ramallah gained a passion for healthy living. Click on title to read full story.
The 45-year-old Manal Jarrar, a mother of four from Jenin, is an aspiring entrepreneur that singlehandedly launched and registered her own small agri-food home-based business in 2017 to become her family’s only source of income, as her husband, who was living with a disability, deceased in 2020. With a degree in office administration, she quit her job and decided to start her own business employing five female and two male workers on a part-time and seasonal basis.
“Vivid memories take me back years to my childhood when I was a little girl, enthusiastically observing my grandmother make traditional Palestinian soap from olive oil. In 2012, the birth of my youngest daughter Mira sparked my desire to rekindle my grandmother’s legacy and establish a soap-making business, which I named after her”, 42-year-old Huwaida from Nablus recalls the genuine drive behind her business idea.
The story of Fatima Saadeh is one of grit and determination. Filled with energy, Fatima starts her mornings at 5:00 a.m. to prepare her daily food orders from her small kitchen. At the age of 23, and during the first Intifada in the late 80s, Fatima found herself launching her first cafeteria and serving Palestinian traditional food and dishes on a university campus. She had an aptitude for business, but no previous experience whatsoever. Fatima’s small cafeteria was the main source of income for her family as her husband was unemployed at the time. One thing led to another, and in 2006 she established her independent kitchen, which she, her husband and two sons have been operating for thirteen years. Fatima is proud when she talks about the growth of her kitchen. Surrounded by large pots and multiple food containers, she passionately describes what this business means to her as a woman. “In my kitchen, I offer home-style food. This is my world that secured the future of my children,” she says, gesturing towards her kitchen, “Without the support of my husband and sons I would not have achieved success. But a business needs money to run, and my journey was not always easy. I did not have any capital or assets to invest in my business. I had to regularly save from my marginal profits and apply for loans to grow and maintain my kitchen. I was determined to succeed.” Click on the title to read the full story.
Fifty-two-year-old Ruqayia Dargmen from Samou town, located 18 km southwest of Hebron, found out in July 2020 that she and her sister had COVID-19. Ruqayia is single and lives with her sister, who has two children. With a frail voice, Ruqayia explains that she experienced very severe headaches, fevers and loss of her voice, and stayed isolated at home with her sister during her recovery.
Fatima Budair, from Ayda Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, who works producing Ma’moul and pastries, attests that the coaching sessions encouraged her to think of entering new markets. The sessions were helpful in enhancing her knowledge in determining how to separate personal and business expenses (electricity bills, house rental, etc.) and how to determine all business-related expenditures in more detail.
The 34-year-old Nihad Khalifeh, a mother of three children, from Ramallah produces organic soap and lotions from olive oil. Nihad’s business idea was inspired from her personal experience in using natural products to treat skin problems. Nihad felt a market need for organic and environmentally-friendly products that do not contain harmful chemical ingredients, such as cortisone and mercury. Her bachelor’s degree in chemistry along with previous work experience and knowledge in cosmetic production aided her to develop her unique “Lovely Organics” that she launched in 2018.
The women-led MSME Solidarity Fund aimed to support the resilience of women facing difficulties in accessing their traditional markets, obtaining raw material for production, or who had products already available and stocked at their homes or cooperatives that were not being sold, as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and movement restrictions.
“As a recent graduate, and, given the COVID-19 lockdown, participating in the Energy-Tech online sessions was the best opportunity to make use of my time and acquire more knowledge about the different fields within the RE sector. The behavior change approach as a metric to promote and sustain energy efficiency was the most interesting topic tackled in these sessions. It was a totally new area for me, and I really enjoyed this session.
“As a last year student in mechanical engineering at An Najah University, these sessions and exposure to speakers from different countries, was, for me, the most important part of this initiative enabling me to learn more about the solar energy field. This was my first experience with online learning, which I was initially skeptical of. Nevertheless, these sessions have been nothing but positive".
For female engineers, EAPs offer a bright prospect to break the unemployment barrier. Nida Qatu, a recent Electrical and Power Engineer graduate from Palestine Technical University -Kadoorie explains, “There are many electrical engineering graduates that are unemployed, and only very few have knowledge and experience in energy auditing. As a new emerging field in the country, I was intrigued to learn more about it. I am also optimistic that energy audit will unfold many possibilities as companies and stakeholders are venturing into this evolving sector".
“I was always strongly convinced of the environmental and energy challenges we face globally, so I knew I wanted to be part of a field that was helping to tackle this.” Maysoun Sholi, a 23-year-old energy and environmental engineer from Jenin, has high hopes as she has become one of GROW’s seven nationally certified young female energy auditors, and one of the four internationally certified auditors. She is venturing into this new emerging field, and one of the female engineers that was employed by the same company in which she had a placement with GROW.
The decision to enroll in this unique specialization was a difficult one for the 18-year-old Afnan Abu Ariesh from Al-Ein Refugee Camp in Nablus. Every so often, she was told how this field is deemed for men. Believing that interior design provides a more suitable career choice for girls, her family was encouraging her to study that instead.
Encouraged by her brothers, the 17-year-old Zainab first enrolled in university to study Information Technology. But when she heard about GROW’s scholarship and the renewable energy field, she was motivated to shift her field of study.
Coming from a household of ten members, the 18-year-old Shaima Shalabi is the first person in her family and in the district of Salfit who had the opportunity to enroll in this specialization.
Creating opportunities for Palestinian women entrepreneurs to celebrate their accomplishments and be actively engaged in the decision-making process within the Chambers of Commerce is the beginning of a path towards leadership that ten businesswomen aspire to achieve through the Ramallah CoC Advisory Council. So, what was the story behind launching this advisory council?
Established in 2005, the Union of Cooperative Associations for Saving and Credit (UCASC) a developed key financial organization for low-income people and became a national legal umbrella for cooperatives in the West Bank and Gaza. As the only legal entity to adopt the saving and credit concept and associated groups, which are in effect rural banks, UCASC plays a predominant role in facilitating access to finance for marginalized women. The following testimonials are from beneficiaries that attended the sessions held by the Women Cooperative Association for Saving and Credit (WCASC) – Jenin, a member cooperative of UCASC.
Nadia’s name is fictitious, but her story is real. Nadia is a middle-aged woman living on the outskirts of Ramallah and Al Bireh Governorate. She is married with six children. Despite the mental and physical abuse that she experienced at the hands of her husband, she was able to maintain decision-making authority over her and her children’s lives. The trauma and suffering experienced by Nadia made it no easier for her to ask for a divorce out of fear of losing her children, as well as the social stigma associated with being a divorced woman.
Nelly Salman, a 54-year-old woman and a proud mother of three young adults, completed her bachelor’s degree in tourism from Bethlehem University in 1987. Tourism is seen as a lucrative specialization in a popular destination such as Bethlehem. Following her graduation, Nelly decided to dedicate her time to her family and to raising her children. Nevertheless, life became too demanding, and her husband’s income was no longer sufficient to cover family expenses.
Itedal Ziadeh, from Deir As-Sudan village, is a 54-year-old and a mother of six daughters and two sons. Itedal completed her primary school degree but couldn’t complete her studies due to social and family constraints. As such, she devoted most of her life to tending to her husband and eight children. Following the marriage of most of her children, Itedal realized that the time has come for her to focus more on herself. In 2016, after careful consideration, she decided to join Deir As-Sudan Women’s Cooperative. According to Itedal, “After my children got married, I began thinking about myself. I wanted to become a productive member in society. I also wanted to provide additional added-value services to my community.”
Amal Abu Hamadah, a mother of five from Rafat village, holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography from Al Najah University. The 38-year-old woman has tried to enter the workforce by applying several times for a teaching position since she graduated but has not yet been able to secure a position. Eyyad, Amal’s husband, has a small refurbishing-furniture shop in the village but unfortunately his income is not enough to cover their expenses, so he also works as a construction worker in Israel whenever the chance arises.
Hadeel Al-Labadi, married and a mother of three boys, began her home-based business producing beeswax in 2016 and joined GROW in 2019. To create her product, she begins by procuring beeswax and draining it of any impurities, after which, she molds the beeswax and mixes it with olive oil. This product is used for inflammation, sunburns and soothing muscle aches and pains, as well as a moisturizer, lip balm and candles. Unlike other producers, Hadeel uses olive oil instead of corn oil, and natural beeswax rather than readymade beeswax, securing her niche in the local market.
Kawthar Harb, a 31-year-old mother of three from Betello1 village, is a graduate of Al-Quds Open University with a Diploma in Secretarial Studies. Kawthar has been an active member of Betello Women’s Association since 2017. She also works in the Association’s cuisine producing a variety of food products, including thyme, pastries, pickles, olives, and spices. Following her graduation, Kawthar worked in many professions, including telemarketing, secretarial work, tutoring, and hairdressing; however, she always dreamt of owning her own food-processing business.
The Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology (HHCOT) was established and started training the first group of technicians in October 2001. It offers professional and technical training programs that match the national labor market standards. The HHCOT introduced the renewable energy program for the academic year 201920. During the same year, and in partnership with HHCOT, GROW introduced four scholarships for females to become Renewable Energy (RE) technicians. Following two years in college, the four RE technicians will graduate this year with high honors to pursue different life paths.
Nihal Neirat, a 40-year-old female from Nablus, married with six children, opened her small home-based business following the loss of her first child. According to Nihal, “the death of my first newborn child was extremely painful and left a huge void in my life. This void led me to think of ways to occupy myself instead of falling into the mourning trap. Twelve years ago, my husband and I used to commute to Jerusalem for our newborn son’s medical treatment. During our regular visits to Jerusalem for almost three years, I discovered numerous spices that were solely sold in Jerusalem and were not to be found anywhere in northern West Bank, such as the Indian rice spice. I began bringing spices to family and friends, and then started selling spices to people from my neighborhood.”
Rawan is an Energy and Environment Engineer graduate from An Najah National University, who completed her degree in 2018. Her mother is also an engineer; hence, venturing into this field seemed like a natural path for her.
In the heart of the city of Nablus where a joint selling point is located under the name “Diretna Entrepreneurs”, a group of women who own small home projects display and sell handicraft, food, and agricultural products.
Ghadeer Issa from Beita, Nablus is a 47-year-old widow. She left school at the age of sixteen to get married. She says, “It was common at our village to get married at such [an] early age.” Ghadeer was happily married to her cousin; she describes him as “kind and supportive”. He was the first to notice her passion for baking desserts and always encouraged her to buy cooking books and to look for recipes online. Unfortunately, in 2011, Ghadeer lost her husband due to his battle with cancer leaving her alone to raise seven children. How could Ghadeer, who left school after the ninth grade, manage herself financially? With her family’s support, she was able to survive for the first year but as she and her children began to feel the burden and she had to pursue alternate means to generate income. Ghadeer adds “A year after my husband’s death, I started baking and donating desserts to some poor families for the remembrance of my husband. This is how my business started.” Families from Ghadeer’s village started ordering various kinds of desserts from her. She saw the potential of such a business and started baking from home. She did not rely only on orders, but also sent some of her products to school canteens and supermarkets.
Wurood is a 24-year-old female from Iskaka, Salfit governorate. She holds a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Al-Quds Open University. During her school years, her passion for making soap began while watching her mother make it. She had a few free days a week from college and wanted to invest her time in something worthwhile. As such, she began learning how to make soap in addition to tutoring other students in university.
‘If we aspire to change society’s perceptions of females, then, female engineers must lead this change,’ said Fatima Salameh, a twenty-five-year-old Power Electronics Engineering graduate from Birzeit University and a mother of two children.
Raised by her mother, Nour was given all the moral and financial support she needed to become the person she is today. Nour’s mother always aided her in making life choices and supported her in pursuing her educational and career goals.
Maysara Dar Khalil and Maryam Hamdan are anything but your average entrepreneurs. When the technology firm where they work Snipe Technologies, expanded into agriculture, the two coworkers saw an opportunity to apply their programming and technological talents to make planting smoother and more efficient for farmers.
Ghadeer Yaish, a 36-year-old female from Aseera Ashamalyia village in Nablus, completed her Accounting and Management Diploma in 2004 and got married at the age of 24. She conceded to her husband’s wishes to leave her employment after marriage. According to Ghadeer, “Raising three beautiful children is a blessing. When my husband wanted to send my son who has a disability to a care institution abroad in Amman, I refused. Hence, we were separated.” The separation and its consequences, which included a negative societal perception of divorced women, people’s unacceptance of her disabled child, and her ex-husband’s social status (he was a pharmacist and a well-known community member refusing the mother of his child to work), were all obstacles she had to face. With no stable source of income to support her children as a single mom, Ghadeer decided to launch a small home-based business in natural beauty care products using natural oils. With GROW’s support, Ghadeer slowly began producing and selling various products, such as aloe vera, avocado, and vanilla skincare creams.
Shourouk is a 2016 university graduate from Kufur Dan village in Qalqilia majoring in Energy Engineering. Soon after her graduation, Shourouk got married and travelled to Dubai. While living there, she attempted to apply for jobs but was unsuccessful due to her lack of work experience. In 2019, she came back to the West Bank and learned about GROW’s RE program through Facebook advertisements. Before she joined the program, she received an offer for an administrative job as a secretary in a realtor company. But she turned down the offer once she was accepted into GROW’s RE program. Her motivation to apply was to build experience in her specialization. Her family, including her husband, were very supportive and pushed her to seize the chance and gain experience from field work.