Vocational training classes in cooking and baking changed Majida's life forever.
I am Majida Ghaleb Kourayem, from Nahr El Bared camp in Lebanon. My husband and I have four children—two girls and two boys. I ran a shop in the camp. Life was good until the war of 2007 when we had to flee and seek refuge in Beddawi camp [near Tripoli].
But when Nahr El Bared started to rebuild, we came back. My husband saw a shop for rent and suggested we open a children’s clothing store. He didn’t have work and we needed to do something so we opened the shop, where I spent my days working. At that time, I would just go home to prepare lunch for the family and then go back to the shop until dinner. My boutique is well known for having the best clothes because I choose everything very carefully. But the economic situation has been terrible, and sales have dropped to almost nothing.
It was then that I heard about vocational training classes for cooking, but I wasn’t so interested at first because the teacher was a male chef. It didn’t sound right to me.
However, then I heard about a second training session with a lot of women in that class. I heard that the one of the graduates was producing amazing food and selling it. And then my neighbor told me to join. I have to laugh because I asked my husband if I should take the course and he said, “You’re already a good cook so why take a course?”
But I insisted, and when they offered another training class, I enrolled. I loved every minute of the class and, though I have experience cooking, I learned so many new things.
At first, I cooked for my family and then our guests tasted my food and liked it so much that they asked me to make some and they’d pay for it. I am used to working even when no other women were working in the camp. Now I feel even more empowered. My family counts on me and I carry a lot of responsibilities.
To be honest, I wanted to take the course to change careers. My clothing shop wasn’t doing all that well and I needed to do something different. I figured people still need to eat. With everyone telling me they liked my food, I thought I could convert my shop into a food store and sell cooked food to the workers nearby. For practice I worked on orders for schools and special occasions and got really good feedback.
Now pastry-making is my business and my husband runs the clothing shop.
Vocational training has changed my life. I am earning more income for my family doing something I really love. My dream is to open a pastry shop of my own.
I will admit, though, that as much as I love making pastry, making croissants is very hard. It needs a lot of practice and perseverance.
Sometimes people ask why do I work so hard, since I’m a housewife. It is true I am a housewife but that doesn’t stop me from learning and seeking knowledge. I love to try everything. Women must realize nothing is beyond their reach.
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. And, when I talk with Palestinian women I tell them, “Don’t say ‘I can’t do this task.’ Don’t say it’s too hard. Sometimes conditions surrounding you can prevent you from taking a certain path in your life, but with determination you can overcome those challenges.”