Ihsan Suleiman welcomed the rest of Al Bireh Cooperative Society members this morning with a basketful of freshly plucked okra and string beans.
The produce came from a plot of land that no one was using, located near Al Bireh. From planting beans, peas, squash, tomato and saffron, 60-year-old Ihsan and other women in her neighborhood succeeded in establishing a cooperative for rural development producing homemade food products, embroidery, and, most recently, soap.
As part of the Civic Engagement Program (CEP) funded by USAID through the Association for Rural Development (ARD), Anera has helped create jobs in soap production for members of four women-based rural cooperative societies in the West Bank.
Anera has delivered hygiene kits containing a gross weight of 8.5 tons of Palestinian handmade soap to around 11,000 needy people in Gaza under the CEP project. The four societies have worked independently to make soap, which is manufactured from Palestinian virgin olive oil, specially made from inedible, lower quality olive oil — a product known to have limited marketing channels.
Through CEP, not only has Anera created jobs and supported and marketed local products, it has also provided an income for needy Palestinian families during the holy month of Ramadan and the succeeding Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
“The money I’ve made producing soap will help me buy my children new clothes for the Eid,” said Nufooz Muhammad, a member of Al-Bireh Cooperative. Her neighbor, Layla Hassouneh, a mother of 12, agrees with her: “Not only do the children need new clothes and presents, they also need school and university fees, so projects like soap production help our families financially and help our modest society thrive.”
The 26 members of Al-Bireh Cooperative Society include educated, independent women aged between 20 – 60. Almost all have higher degrees in subjects like journalism, psychology, programming and engineering.
The women from the four cooperative societies have received former training for soap production by New Farm, a marketing and agricultural production company. The company also helped the societies acquire the required equipment to start off the project.
Prior to CEP, the usual quantity and quality of soap produced by the four cooperatives was minimal. The project has increased the cooperatives’ capacity, skills and potential, making it possible to produce a relatively large quantity of high quality soap in only one month. CEP has helped the small women-established income-generating projects blossom and grow.