Clay not Bombs: Palestinian Girls Learn Skills to Open Businesses
At first glance, these girls appear remarkably similar. They peer surreptitiously out from under white hijabs with dark eyes and looming smiles that shyly appear under my gaze. They sit demurely making clay boxes under the auspices of a frilly blonde haired Israeli art teacher and the green and golden hijabed head of their teacher.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
They speak in hushed tones that echo with the intonation of teenagers across the world and though the melodic Arabic remains mysteriously inaccessible to my ears, it is not difficult to gather the sounds of normal conversation and gossip.
The room itself is unremarkable with the usual tall steel shelves covered in moderately bad art done by unskilled but presumably eager hands painted with blues and greens and reds. Blocks of clay line the long wooden tables and wobbly stools populate the edges of the room.
A black board filled with idle scribblings along the front wall of the room and the dirty windows along the back make this classroom indistinguishable from the classrooms where I myself sat as a student awkwardly trying to mold something out of universally present gray clay of amateur sculpture classes the world over.
There is no intifada in this room. In this room, there are art supplies, teachers, and the general good atmosphere manufactured by productive entertainment. In this room, the filth ridden streets, one room school houses, sky-rocketing unemployment, insecurity and violence of the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />West Bank and Gaza are far away.
One girl carefully crafts a dove to sit on a branch along the edge of her clay basket. Another has made a mother turtle with great care and attention to detail even including a litter of eggs around the expectant turtle’s feet. These are images of hope.
A more careful look exposes the difference in the girls who are soon to be women married with responsibilities. Their smiles vary widely from the open, good natured and friendly grin of Israa Alyan to the more care worn closed mouth smile of Doua Ashhab. Some of their faces are lined and the older more care-worn girls, more than their cherub cheeked counter parts, glance downward when I intrusively photograph their activity.
Three girls along the left side of the room speak to me in flawless English asking me the casual questions of newly met acquaintances. I am not far removed from them in age, but I come from the other side of the city and in effect, the other side of the world. We speak briefly, mostly to giggle about the common impression of looking of awful in a picture and I begrudgingly acquiesce to the request to delete a few of the more controversial ones.
These girls are part of a program designed to help them succeed in a world where the odds against them are immense. Fouad Abu Hamed, a business man, from the Arab-Israeli village of Sor Baher, established the Arab Women’s Entrepreneurial Program in order to help the girls learn skills needed to become successful business women.
“There is a great need in my village,” said Abu Hamed, “to help the girls that are struggling with their education. The idea with this program is to give them the skills needed to open a small business where they can sell goods outside to people who live outside of the village.”
Today, the girls are working with clay to learn to make handicrafts. Some of them hope to open small businesses selling them.
“I want to be independent,” said Doua. “This project gives me the tools I need for the future. Someday, I hope to open a business and sell crafts that I can make myself.”
The village of Sor Baher located just outside of East Jerusalem is home to 15,000 Israeli Arabs. Most of the roads lie in disrepair and garbage is rarely, if ever, collected. When I visited Sor Baher the first time, lying next to the just built medical center was a rotting leg of what appeared to be lamb. The next week, during a follow up visit, the same leg lay in the same spot in a further state of decay.
No municipal buses run in Sor Baher and until this September, there was no secondary girls’ school. For high education, girls had to attend private schools that were held in peoples’ homes. After a seven year battle, the Supreme Court finally ruled that the municipality must provide a secondary school for the girls of Sor Baher. It was built this past summer and opened in the fall.
However, these girls between the ages of 17-19 are too old to benefit from the new high school. The education they received has left them at a disadvantage compared to their Israeli counter parts and therefore the training received through the Entrepreneurial Project is vital to them.
“These are girls that have not done well on exams or struggle with the basics of education,” said Mona Shalbi, the girls’ teacher. “In the future, learning these skills will allow them to work and help provide for their families.”
None of the twelve girls had ever traveled to West Jerusalem before their trip to The Djanogly Visual Arts Center. Nor, have they ever met Jewish Israeli teenagers.
“It does not make me angry to see what West Jerusalem is like,” said Israa. “It just motivates me to work to bring better things to my own society.”
When asked if the girls were afraid to come to West Jerusalem, they responded with enthusiastic yeses, nervous giggles and a lively debate began over their feelings towards the Jewish side of the city.
“It just makes me wonder,” said Doua, “why we don’t have these things [arts centers, paved roads, buses] in my village.”
Abu Hamed hopes that through programs like this one, the girls will be able to not just better their own position within the village but help increase the level and quality of life for their peers.
“At the end of the day,” said Abu Hamed, “it is not who has what but what we can do with what we have that will help our village. This is a lesson that these girls must learn and that they will be able to pass to their children.”