BY CHERYL ROBERTSON
Handicrafts bring independence, industry and income
“My message to every woman is that the first step to self empowerment is to learn to love and believe in yourself,” says Halima Al Quaidah, once a volunteer wool-washer and now manager of the Bani Hamida Women Weaving Project in a barren mountainous region of Jordan.
In Makawir village some 35 kilometers from Madaba city, Bedouin women have been reviving traditional rug weaving, helping to maintain the social fabric of the poverty-stricken Makawir area. The weaving project was started here by Save the Children Federation, and in 1988 taken over by the Jordan River Foundation (JRF).
“Older women in the community were keen to pass on rug-weaving techniques to the younger generations,” explained Halima. “This opportunity has allowed me to be an asset to my community and to help other women become contributors to our community. I’m so glad that I never gave up on my dream.”
The JRF believes that by supporting sustainable social, economic and cultural programs, communities will become more self-sufficient. This non-profit, non-governmental organization chaired by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, strives to empower all but particularly women and children.
Halima continued. “This was very important for me not just from an economic perspective, but also personally. As a result, when I became engaged I made it clear to my fiancé that I would continue working even after marriage.”
“Now every girl in Bani Hamida sees me as a role model and families understand and accept the benefits of women’s financial and social contribution,” she said.
The oldest of 12 children, Halima’s family could not afford a secondary education for her, so by working at the weaving project she funded herself and her siblings. Recently Halima enrolled at a university for a degree and was one of six women nationally elected to local councils.
To be able to make their own decisions and support their families are common motivators among the underprivileged women of Jordan. It was in the deprived suburb of Jabal Al-Natheef in east Amman, which offers poverty, over-crowding, intermittent water and electricity supplies and poor health care, that Amal Fityani found hope and inspiration. The Jordan River Designs Project (JRD) was established here to help Palestinian refugee women gain extra income, as well as to maintain traditional Palestinian techniques.
“I’m an independent working woman, I take my own decisions in my life, at the same time I support my family,” she said. “Because of JRF I am an empowered member of the community, I have confidence in myself and I am financially secure, which contributes to my self-esteem.”
Operating under the umbrella of Al-Karma Center, the JRD project also encourages women from other parts of Jordan to contribute their different embroidery techniques. The result: hand-made internationally coveted high quality quilts, cushions, wall-hangings, table mats plus gift items and even limited edition shawls for the luxury market.
Amal started as a sewing assistant then worked her way up to her position as center manager. She hopes to expand the center and so increase the numbers of women benefiting from the project.
The JRF also supports the Wadi Al-Rayan Project in the Jordan Valley. Women like Ablah Fadgham use excess banana leaves and the long, narrow cattail reeds that once presented an environmental headache as these were dumped on the roadsides or burnt. Now woven into traditional baskets, coasters, mats and other home accessories, these one-time burdens are providing a livelihood for the valley’s women.
Ablah trained and has worked at the center for 15 years. “The experience gave me the chance to meet new people and visit new areas by participating in lectures and exhibitions. I also feel good about improving the environment in my community.”
“My family really appreciates and respects me for supporting them. Not only my financial input is important, but my opinion is taken into account when major decisions are made,” she said.
“The most important thing to me is that I’ve changed on both personal and professional levels. That makes me happy!” said Ablah.
To learn more about The Jordan River Foundation, please visit http://www.jordanriver.jo/
Cheryl Robertson is a journalist based in Dubai. Zimbabwean by birth, she writes on subjects across the board. www.simbacom.com/cheryl.