Women Can! Palestinian Women are Becoming Entrepreneurs in Palestine
Anera recently had an opportunity to talk with five participants in our Women Can project in the West Bank, funded by IRUSA. The program is in its initial phase. We will continue to follow these women and their efforts through the course of the project. The first two women profiled live in Qabalan village, in the southeast of Nablus, the next lives in the Yasmeen neighborhood, in the heart of Nablus’ Old City, one lives in Qalqilya, and the last woman profiled lives in the village of Azoon, near Qalqilya.
Sanaa: homemade goat cheese from the Qabalan mountains
Sanaa counts her blessings, despite the hardships she has faced. “Life has taught me to put up with pain and God rewarded me with beautiful kids,” she says.
“I don’t like being lazy or sluggish,” Sanaa says. She lives with her family on a hillside facing the village of Qabalan. The mother of two children has been working since she turned 17 and has “tried every possible job. I worked in a factory, as a florist, making pastries, and finally raising goats. I realized then how connected I felt to my goats. My goat Shalabiya was my favorite.”
Unfortunately, Sanaa’s husband has a respiratory illness and is unable to earn an income. She fell into debt paying for his medical treatment and had to sell her goats. “It was so painful and my heart ached.”
Sanaa is enthusiastic about her proposed project to raise goats again. She is planning to start with 12 goats and will gradually expand the herd. She will make cheese from the goats’ milk and sell it to local villagers. The goat cheese fetches about $6 per kilo (2.2 lbs).
“We live in a very rural community. I know all about caring for goats. My father and husband also have experience raising sheep. I even helped a goat give birth.”
Her love for the land is evident. “My roots are here in the mountains where I live. Each season here has its own beauty. Every day at dawn, after my morning prayer, I head up the mountain.”
Sanaa has a small plot of land to grow vegetables. When her kids return from school, they do their homework before rushing out to the fields to pick green almonds, a popular snack in Palestine.
Like her kids, Sanaa prefers to spend her evenings outdoors. “My goats and handmade cheese are the best thing to end my day with. Now with this project, I am optimistic about the future.”
Khyria: the Qabalan baker famous for her giant bread loaves
“The only thing I know for sure is baking,” says Khyria. “To my neighbors, my bread is famous,” she says with evident pride. She mixes white and black wheat to make her own special flour mix. Sometimes she also bakes cookies with sesame, using a recipe she learned from her mother.
The bumpy roads of Qabalan village lead to Khyria’s modest house. “I have lived in this neighborhood for 30 years. I am rooted in this village,” Khyria says.
In the mornings, she and her husband like to sit on their terrace overlooking the mountains, drinking coffee. She grows onions, olives trees, sage and thyme in her backyard.
“I started baking when I was 10 years old. When my mother would leave to pick olives from the groves, I would seize the chance to bake freely. When she returned, she would be astonished by all the bread I had made.”
Khyria uses an old mud oven, much like the ones her grandmothers would have used generations ago. Khyria recalls that as a child her family “had nothing.” In her youth she began earning money by selling baked goods to her neighbors.
Her bread became “really popular” in the village. However, she had to stop baking for some years to raise her four young children.
After learning about the Women Can project, her daughter convinced Khyria to propose her bakery project to Anera. She is excited that the cash support from the program will enable her to transform her lifelong love for baking into a viable small business that will support her family.
She begins her day baking bread at 7 am. Khyria explains how she makes bread. “My process is simple, but the spirit of my bread is different. I begin with the flour and yeast, going by instinct for the quantities of each.” As often as three times a day she kneads a batch of dough by hand, shapes it into a ball and covers it, letting it rise before deflating it and preparing it for baking.
Khyria has had to take painkillers for her back pain, since kneading the dough each day is hard on her neck and back. She hopes that a new mixer will help her get rid of the pain, while allowing her to be more productive.
The bakery will be a family effort and everyone will have a role to play. Her oldest daughter will be particularly involved. Currently, she makes handles for gift bags. “It doesn’t pay well, but staying home doing nothing is painful,” Khyria observes. Her husband is in poor health but tries to eke out a living as a driver using his old car.
She did not have money for upgrades like the mixer to launch the business on her own, but she is optimistic about her earnings once she gets started. Khyria estimates she will sell about $6 to $8 worth of baked goods each day. One loaf of her kilo-sized bread sells for $1. The income is small, but it will provide a boost for her family.
Khyria says she is looking forward to the project. “The giant size of the loaves makes my bread special. This project will make baking more efficient and help keep my unique bread alive.”