Yousef Steifan has been working as a blacksmith for 37 years. He was only 24 years old when he opened his own workshop in what was then a brand new light industrial complex on the outskirts of Beit Jala, his hometown.
Anera built the complex in 1984 on an empty plot of land. It still stands today with 57 workshops that provide jobs for hundreds of craftsmen, car technicians and workers.
“I began working here only a year after this complex was constructed. I really liked it, especially that I was only beginning to build my career as a blacksmith and shop owner. As soon as I signed the lease contract, I bought my own tools and was ready to begin,” said Yousef, who is a father of four. “It has helped me provide for my family, put food on the table and pay tuition fees for my kids’ schools and universities.”
Before the complex was built the light industrial shops were located in the middle of residential areas and caused a constant nuisance – from noise to traffic congestion.
“When Anera came with the proposal for a new complex far away from the residential area, we were able to relocate the shops,” explains Nadim Al-Hadweh, head of Beit Jala’s municipal engineering department. Nadim took part in the construction. At the time, he was just 24 and a recent graduate from a U.S. university.
The construction was done in two phases –in the eighties and nineties. Many extensions and newer buildings have been added through the years. Basically, it has never stopped growing.
“The project was the first of its kind for the municipality of Beit Jala, and probably the first in all of the West Bank,” Al Hadweh boasts. “Municipalities from all over the West Bank came here just to examine it so that they could replicate it in their own cities.”
Sadly, he says the economic situation is dimmer today than when the complex was built nearly three decades ago. Beit Jala has lost tracts of land to settlements and the separation wall restricts movements around and out of the West Bank for work and commerce. Unemployment and poverty are on the rise. “But, I have succeeded throughout my years to build a very good reputation and I have many loyal customers.” Yousef explains. “Even though this complex is a bit far from the city center, my customers always come to me and no one else.”
Yousef has a son, who is still in school. He says that he would never push his son to become a blacksmith, since it is quite a hazardous career.
“I’ve spent a lifetime in blacksmithing. As someone who has chosen not to go to university, this opportunity I was given was pivotal for my future,” stated Yousef. But he won’t push his son to follow him. Yousef wants his son, like his older sisters, to go to university and choose his own career path.
“Although I sorely regret never continuing my studies, I am very proud as a blacksmith and being able to provide a very good education for my children.”