It’s fall in Gaza, which means it’s peak season for za’atar and grape leaves. In the heart of El Bureij refugee camp, 12 women convene at a food bank to share recipes with the season’s harvest.
The food bank hosts events for eight women’s cooperatives with roots in different villages in central Gaza. These events provide the women with a platform to show off their cooking skills and products, from pickles to tahina. Today, the main table holds 40 samples of Palestinian and Western dishes.
“We can develop and expand our serving menu,” said Aziza Al Bouhiri, a participant in the event. She enjoys watching visitors taste her food products. This morning, she’s making sure to keep her maftoul warm—maintaining her own high professional standards in serving the traditional dish.
Aziza picks fresh vegetables from the bountiful farms in her village of Wadi Salqa. In this village, women are deeply connected to the land and they are trained to cook and bake as part of their heritage. “It’s the pride of our village,” said Aziza.
Now Aziza wants to bring her work to the next level. “We are planning to open a production line to provide nutritious meals to preschoolers. We’ll also make pickles and strawberry jam,” she said, pointing to cans of carrots and cucumber pickles. She said she would use colors and styles that are pleasant and favorable to children.
The women reported that they used to make $57 per month, and now they make $172 per month thanks to participation in the co-op. “We’ve been able to increase our monthly profits, and I think all this come down to Anera’s support for us by providing kitchen equipment like gas canisters, stoves, fridges and kitchen utensils,” said Aziza. “This has helped us reduce costs. Now with this event, we able to market ourselves to new customers and make them aware of our existence.”
Date and Olive: Gaza Women Attend Expo
On the other side of the city, Date and Olive is another women’s cooperative bringing together delicious produce and skilled cooks. It was founded last year by two friends who wanted to create a big public event to sell their goods.
“Date and Olive was basically founded to help women generate income in this terrible economy in Gaza,” explained Doaa Rayes, who used her own home kitchen equipment before Anera supplied the co-op with mixers, stoves, freezers and more. “We’re trying to promote Palestinian culture and identity with our hand-made bamboo products as well.”
At the end of the two events, the women underscored the importance of working together. With a little smile, one woman said, “I like to taste other people’s food to improve my own skills and add more dishes to our menu, and make sure that we are competitive in price and quality.”
With funds from IR-USA, Anera has supported eight women’s cooperatives throughout Gaza, helping the women generate income and ease financial burdens in the poor local economy. When women are self-sufficient economically, they are empowered and invest in their communities.