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Craftaid and Sunbola

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 02.01.2010:

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In 1988 a local committee, with Carol Morton, wife of the Reverend Colin Morton of St. Andrew’s Church in Jerusalem, founded Craftaid, a non-profit organisation that markets crafts from women’s groups, societies for those with special needs, and other social enterprises in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. This was the predecessor of Sunbula, Palestine’s leading fair trade organisation, and its sister in Scotland, Hadeel.

Who then could have imagined the range of unique and beautiful products, which, 20 years later, have become a mainstay of many Palestinian communities now under ever-greater economic and social pressure? And all over the world people know something about the beauty of Palestinian work and tradition because these products are available online. Shawls, rugs, bags, cushion covers, belts, dolls, olivewood carvings, ceramics, and jewellery show a Palestine as far away as could be imagined from the stereotypes of violence of everyday media pictures.

When Carol and Colin returned to Scotland in 1997 Carol started marketing these crafts from her home. Then, in 2003, a group including Carol and Colin, formed two companies, Palcrafts (UK) Ltd, and Hadeel (UK) Ltd – the trading arm. The relief of poverty, and educational work, are the objects of the registered charity, Palcrafts. With only two part-time paid staff, the work is carried out largely by dedicated volunteers.

Today the shops of Hadeel in Edinburgh, and its sister Sunbula at St. Andrew’s Church, Jerusalem, provide employment and a sustainable source of income for craftspeople working with social enterprises in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon, as well as one in the Galilee and another among the Bedouin in the Negev. Vulnerable and disadvantaged groups are the centre of the enterprise. The work also helps to sustain infrastructures, as many of the producer groups also provide health, education, and emergency services in their communities, which lack any form of local government that might do this. The biggest problem for Hadeel today is receiving delivery of the handicrafts – recently it took several months for a box of embroidery to leave the Gaza Strip.

Hadeel is a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and supplies other fair trade shops and individual fair traders as well as Palestine solidarity groups. In the United Kingdom it works closely with Zaytoun – which sells great za’atar, fine olive oil, and olive oil products in the United Kingdom. Any surplus made on the sale of goods is gift-aided to Palcrafts, which distributes small development grants to the producers. In the past, items such as a digital camera, a computer, a printer, storage equipment, a laminating machine, English and computer literacy courses, an industrial sewing machine, and a second-hand scanner have been provided. Palcrafts participates in many events that serve an educational purpose in Britain; it also organises educational tours to producer groups and produces information for customers and other interested people.

Palcrafts attracts many volunteers and also works through church, fair trade, and trade union organisations. It is a true example of corporate social responsibility working in both Palestine and the United Kingdom.

Sunbula was founded in 1996 as a Jerusalem-based non-profit organisation committed to promoting social justice and economic empowerment for the marginalised. It too supports women’s cooperatives and disabled people’s self-help groups. It has 17 partner groups across the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, and has 2,000 artisans working at the crafts. It offers marketing, sales promotion, and quality control skills.

Palestinian handicrafts have always been living examples of ethnic art deeply rooted in Palestinian folklore; they have now become a symbol of the people and their striving for a normal way of life with a national identity, in the face of the Israeli occupation of their land. Making beautiful crafts also helps people psychologically to survive during long hours and days when they are not permitted to travel because of Israeli-imposed barriers and restrictions.

As Carol once put it, “The sale of these products gives not only income to the communities, but also dignity and hope; it ensures the survival of traditional Palestinian crafts, particularly embroidery. Culture is an essential element in the identity of people, and Palestinians are a people under threat by illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”

The words of Mariam, the production manager from one of the most marginalised communities – Bedouin of the Negev – could also be heard from many of the women who work in these projects and have found themselves empowered and able to supply the family income and give their children a good education as a result: “The project has been a life-changing experience for us. Now I drive a car, use the Internet. I feel as though I am free.”

The Lakiya Bedouin Weaving Project, where Mariam works, was established in 1991, and in six centres 150 women are using their traditional skills of dyeing and weaving, while also learning business management skills.

Atfaluna (Our Children), in Gaza, is another example of miraculous transformation of people’s lives. Velvet cushions and purses, original hand-painted ceramics, and many other fine crafts are made in the very creative income-generating project of the centre for deaf children opened in 1992 and the only institution in Gaza devoted to education and services for those with hearing difficulties. It educates 250 children and serves more than 5,000 people. Of the 148 members of staff of the Atfaluna Society, 40 percent are hearing impaired.

And from the village of Idna, near Hebron, Naime, Nuha, and Sadieh, of the Idna Ladies’ Association, show visitors fine linen scarves, original bags, and many other pretty and practical things that they have been making since the start of their project in 1998. They had the help of a Japanese designer and sewing instructor. As one of them said, “When we began, it seemed like a dream that we would have our own association and earn income. Today, we’ve done it.” The project has changed the women’s lives, bringing income of between $50 and $120 monthly, and, equally important, giving them a sense of independence and self-worth as they see their families flourish – thanks to them.

Carol Morton’s initiative has succeeded in becoming a model showing what a fair trade organisation such as Sunbula or Hadeel can do. As she puts it: “Good things can happen when people work for the common good – whether it be the local people or others from outside who identify with them in working for justice.”

Hadeel is Arabic for the cooing of a dove. Hadeel (UK) is a company owned by the charity Palcrafts (UK) [Scottish Charity number 033983]; www.hadeel.org.

Sunbula means spike of wheat; www.sunbula.org.

Some of the groups which work with Hadeel and Sunbula are:

Association Najdeh, Al Badia, Lebanon

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, Gaza

Bethlehem Arab Women’s Union

Bethlehem Committee for Rehabilitation and Development

Friends of the Sick, Ramallah

Gloria Enterprise, Beit Sahour

Idna Ladies’ Association

Jalazon Refugee Camp YWCA Project

Lifegate Rehabilitation, Beit Jala

Melkite Palestinian Embroidery Workshop, Ramallah

Oasis Workshop for People with Special Needs, Beit Sahour

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre

Sindyanna of Galilee

Sulafa, UNRWA Embroidery Project, Gaza

Surif Women’s Cooperative, near Hebron

The Cave, International Centre, Bethlehem

Women’s Child Care Society, Beit Jala

Zaytoun, www.zaytoun.org

TWIP

January 2010

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