Among many things, I learned that the Palestinians have a lifestyle that I would not want to trade for living in America. Money is scarce, and women have unique challenges in this society.
Women in Gaza have been bearing an increasing burden of supporting their families. Although it is labor-intensive and time-consuming work, thousands of women are willing to embroider as many stitches as they can while juggling household responsibilities, in exchange for a wage that would afford basic subsistence for their families’ survival.All proceeds from purchases directly benefit Palestinian craft producers, and help to carry out their mission to support women, refugees and people with disabilities.
Sunbala is a Jerusalem-based nonprofit Fair Trade organization that supports 14 different craft producers. Sunbula helps Palestinian artisans to be economically empowered, and supports the preservation of the cultural heritage. The Sulafa Embroidery Project aims to provide income for the Strip’s refugee women and to ensure that the traditional art form of embroidery is kept alive. Women, by receiving the embroidery work, earn an average of $40 per month, a significant amount in the area where a majority of people live below the poverty line ($2/day per household).
The UNRWA Sulafa Embroidery Project is located in Gaza City and provides income generating opportunities for hundreds of refugee women through a network of 9 community centers across the Strip. Sulafa is a nonprofit project established by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) in 1950 as a part of the Social Service Programme. Sulafa’s shawls, with their elegant style and striking geometric patterns, have been the top-sales item at Sunbula for many years. Gazan women’s artisanship and resilient spirits against all odds are reflected in the beauty of their products.
Once a traditional craft practiced by village women, Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery has become an important symbol of Palestinian culture. Embroidered pieces can be found in the homes of most Palestinian families in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel and the Diaspora beyond, adorning the walls of houses in Jerusalem, villas in the Gulf, suburban homes in the United States, and cement block houses in refugee camps. In addition, cross-stitch embroidery is given as gifts and worn by Palestinians worldwide on festive occasions.The handicraft also symbolizes the traditional rural lifestyle of Palestine, much of which was lost after the 1948 creation of the state of Israel.
While in Bethlehem, I purchased an embroidered eyeglass holder shown on the right. After 13 years, it still looks as fresh and bright as it did when we were in the Holy Land.
It was definitely a good investment for a small price, and proceeds from sales helped defray the Palestinian women’s expenses in producing hand made products.