Gaza Women Benefit from Loans to Achieve Success
By Rania Elhilou
The Gaza Women Loan Fund (GWLF) was established in 1995 by ANERA and the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) to provide working capital to low income women to reduce poverty, create employment, and generate income.
Nearly two decades later, it is still providing Gaza women an opportunity to succeed in business. I wanted to visit some of the women to learn about what they have accomplished. Fathia Abu Amer lives in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya. In her fifties, Fathia runs a successful business from her home, selling colorful dresses for young girls to wear in wedding celebrations. I peeked in her the small warehouse and saw a row of white, red, purple dresses neatly arranged on one side and quilts, baby blankets and table cloths along the other wall. Fathia told me she started to realize her life-long ambition when she took her first loan from ANERA in 1995.
Since 1995, ANERA has supported 5,500 women across Gaza through loans totaling $7 million.
Fathia travels regularly to Egypt to buy clothes and sell them in Gaza and has become a sales representative for a long list of traders in Egypt and Gaza. “Before taking my first loan, I was a tailor and had three machines,” she told me. “But I wasn’t able to grow or expand because I lacked cash to pay for the cloth and other materials.” At the time, Fathia lived in a small rented apartment and had problems paying the high prices to get the materials and still make ends meet.
“When I heard about ANERA and the loans, I immediately went to get one. So, I could pay the traders in cash and they gave me better prices. That meant I was able to pay for my rent and food for my family, buy the materials, make a reasonable profit and, above all, repay my loan on time.”
By that time, Fathia told me she realized how powerful she could be and how much she could accomplish with the help of that loan. Twenty years later, Fathia has bought a house and hopes to build an extra room to accommodate more goods to sell. The day before we met, she told me, a woman bought 10 dresses for a wedding party.
In all, Fathia has taken seven loans from ANERA, ranging from $3500 to $5000, based on her reputation for repaying the loans on time. Her husband Ahmad helps with marketing the goods and often lends a hand to glue beads on the dresses to add a bit more glamour for special occasions. “We get a lot of items depending on the season — wedding dresses for summer, wool clothing for kids in winter.”
Fathia told me how proud she is of what she has accomplished for herself and her family. “I sent two kids to university and I fed my family.” Fathia says she would not have been able to it without the loans she had received from Gaza Women Program. “I have no words to describe how fortunate I was when I learned about the loans 20 years ago.”
ANERA Loans Support Palestinian Embroidery Businesswoman
In Tufah neighborhood, I met Thareefa El Reefi who told me how she learned traditional Palestinian embroidery from her mother when she was in the sixth grade. “After school, I used to sit with my mother and watch her work and I wanted to do it too.” Thareefa says her embroidery work now is the only source of income for her family of eight children.
For more than 18 years, Thareefa has been selling embroidered wallets, pillows and trays. “I do the work and then send my products for finishing and market them in stores here in Gaza,” she explains. She said it was all made possible, thanks to four ANERA loans, ranging from $1500 to $3000.
Thareefa told me she also taught herself how to weave woolen clothes to sell in winter time. “I do some extra products depending on orders from my neighbors and friends,” she said.
Thareefa dreams of having a factory so she can mentor other women in ANERA’s program to show her appreciation and repay the program more than just the loans. “I learned it is better when you teach people and help them do things for themselves rather than giving out charity.”
Rania Elhilou is ANERA Communications Officer in Gaza.