Synergy and its best: aspiring female entrepreneurs and their fearless leader

Since the beginning of my stint this summer as an intern for the Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus project, a day has yet to pass in which I don’t find myself in awe of the dedicated female participants in the program and of the woman who basically runs the show, Fatima Irshaid. Fatima’s family is originally from a village outside of Jenin but she was raised in Nablus and now lives in Ramallah.

Not only does Fatima provide a space in which local Nabulsi women with an entrepreneurial spirit can obtain business development training and access to her pre-existing network, but also a role model for the possibilities of personal and professional growth.

Fatima is their support system and their tough love. In turn, the female participants are her inspiration and, at times, her frustration. Demanding, yet compassionate, she understands where they are coming from and acts accordingly with fairness. As she told me, “Everyone has a story. What matters is how you move on with it.”  Fatima is dedicated to her participants and their futures as female entrepreneurs. They are in turn dedicated to her, the result truly being more than the sum of its parts.

The local staff’s dedication to TYO and to their respective missions within it is admirable and more than visible on a daily basis. Fatima is no exception to this rule and it has been an honor to work with her and the FWEN program.

- Maggie

Maggie is an intern at TYO Nablus.

ABOUT FWEN: During the Fifth Annual Clinton Global Initiative (New York, September 2009), the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO) committed to contribute to women’s economic empowerment in Nablus. The project, Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in Nablus, is now underway at the TYO Center in Nablus and is planned to begin in Lebanon in the fall of 2010.

An Unexpected Finale to a Night Out

A few days ago, the American and local staffs and the American interns left the grounds of TYO for a nighttime meal overlooking beautiful hills. While we knew there would be fun-filled, transliterated conversations (especially for the interns like me who don’t speak Arabic) taking place, the bonding that came to be at the end of the evening was a fabulous surprise to everyone.

I found that the evening began typically, with people waiting around the table, conversing about their jobs, complaining about the glacial nature of the wait staff, and taking turns watching Kais, psycho-social therapist Suhad’s adorable son, kick an inner tube around the pool while his older brother swam. After a few hours of eating and socializing, it was time for us all to pile into the brand-spanking new TYO bus and head home.

-1

I don’t know if it was the general jovial mood that comes after eating a delicious meal in great company, the intoxicating rhythm of Palestinian pop, or the neon blue floor lights of our new bus but, as we headed out of Matah Zaman, the unflinchingly strong Palestinian spirit took over.

We clapped. We cheered. Some of us even sang and danced to the beat of the amazing music. And as we headed through the Israeli-manned checkpoints, we didn’t lower our voices, but raised them.

And what remained in my mind long after the drive was over was that spirit. That resilience, that perseverance, that beauty in the people I have found during my time here in Palestine, that ability to enjoy life despite the daily trials of a military occupation. It is that which I will miss dearly from Nablus.

-Maggie

Kunafa Festival

All of Nablus and the West Bank had been abuzz with excitement for weeks prior to the event: the preparation and unveiling of the world’s largest kunafa! Kunafa is a deliciously sweet cheese-based dessert, popular all over the Arab world but an acknowledged specialty of Nablus. The TYO staff and interns can’t get enough of it, and with our sweet teeth leading the way, Saturday morning Shahla and I joined the thousands of visitors from the cities and villages of the West Bank and even Israel to pay witness to this overgrown dessert. Since we could not get close enough to snap a photo, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

170 bakers
10 pastry shops
75 meters long
2 meters wide
700 kilograms of flour
700 kilograms of cheese
300 kilograms of sugar
300 kilograms of paste
35 kilograms of pistachios
6 tins of cooking fat

While the city square is normally home to shoppers and families visiting the clothing shops, falafel stands, pastry shops, and my favorite: The Fruit Market of Sweet Satisfaction, it was thrilling to be among an expectantly waiting crowd of many times the usual size!

Kunafa1Kunafa2Kunafa3

The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

The day was particularly joyful for local Nabulsi vendors, who I’m sure relished the business that poured in from all the visiting kunafa fans! Shown here is one of the ever-quirky date juice vendors, complete with his costume and juice contraption.

Walking around, fellow intern Shahla and I had the pleasure of encountering two TYO families: girls and their mothers from Margaret’s dance and aerobics classes. They were so enthusiastic, both to see us and for this momentous day for Nablus. It was a day of great pride for Nabulsis and Palestinians, and the international press paid attention! BBC News reported on the event, further adding to the positive international news coverage that Nablus has received in the past week.

Be it a new movie theater, a giant kunafa, or consecutive games of “Thumbs Up Seven Up” in my sports and games class, Nabulsis have shown themselves to be more than ready to find joy in opportunities for lighthearted fun.
Bookmark and Share

Ice Cream at 4:30 am, Sunrise at 5:00

The interns took some time off this weekend and traveled to Haifa for some much anticipated R&R. After taking a not-so-quick detour to Tel Aviv for the absolute best burger I have ever, in my entire life tasted (true story), we turned our rental cars north and headed to Haifa, a costal Israeli town in which both Israelis and Palestinians live. (Historically a predominantly Arab town, Arabs now make up about 33% of the population.) The following day, armed with some sleep and our faithful robo-tourist guide, intern coordinator Robyn Kbera (“Big” in Arabic and she is as tall as they get, folks), we saw the beautiful sites of ancient Akko (aka Acre). Akko has at one point been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, various caliphates, Bedouins, Crusaders, Ottomans, Mameluks, Brits, and Israel. While touring around what is now called the Citadel of Akko, we walked along (maybe among) Ottoman fortifications, built on top of Hospitaller and Crusader fortifications, which were later used as a prison for Jewish Zionists by the British during the British Mandate. Needless to say, for anyone at all interested in history, visiting Akko is a bit like being a kid in a candy store!

After inundating ourselves with history and old rocks, we rewarded ourselves with a seafood extravaganza, right along the shore and a nap back at the homestead. We were all pretty exhausted at that point, but also knew that the real highlight of the weekend was right around the corner- SUSHI! At around 8 p.m., we headed out and proceeded to drive all over downtown Haifa before our cabs could find the elusive sushi restaurant. Following our second seafood meal, a few of us were still not quite ready to call it a night. At around 4 a.m., a decision was made that when in Haifa…see the sunrise. So, following an early morning ice cream break, we saw the sun rise in Bat Galim over the heads of Israeli women and Arab boys out for an early morning swim. Ice cream at 4:30 a.m. and a sunrise at 5:00 a.m. was just about the perfect way to end our first day in Haifa.

Beautiful Akko
Sunrise
On the road
Bookmark and Share

Intern Journal: Impossible to prepare

Now that the first two weeks of the summer session have ended, it’s time to breathe. We had two weeks of intensive preparation for what we would face as summer teachers here at TYO, but nothing could prepare me for what I faced. Nothing could prepare Kelsey when a young boy brought a knife to her class. Nothing could prepare me for having to defer kids from my class because they were too old and there was only so much chaos I could handle in a classroom with two volunteers. Nothing could have prepared us.

But more surprising than the chaos piercing your ears while kids play with the parachute on the bottom floor or while I watch Maggie surrounded by screaming children running and playing games around during every session of her Summer Camp class was the love that has pierced us interns.

It is the look of calm love as Maggie smiles when children scream around her. It is the way Kelsey walks her six to eight-year-olds in a single line, holding their hands, to the buses after a three-hour class, slowing down to match their slower pace. It is the way Adam tries to childproof everything in the building to protect the children, from putting foam around sharp corners and sandpaper on the marble stairs to slow the children down as they run up and down the stairs. It is the way Doris seems to notice every time one of her 15 or more students seems remotely bored, tired or sad and how she always addresses it immediately with concern.

We have fallen in love with the smiles of these children, and it’s entirely thanks to the people that have helped keep this beautiful organization running whether it is by coming to work or volunteer at TYO, mentioning it to a friend, donating to the website, or even sending a link to family members of the blog. So, thank you.

Intern Journal: Cooking, Nablus style

Most people in Nablus are not working at 7 AM on a Friday morning. But Reem, our local cook at TYO, was hard at work preparing a feast for a wedding! I joined Reem as “research” for my nutrition class for mothers this summer in hopes of getting a feel for local cooking techniques and cuisine. (The fact that I am also a serious food lover of course had nothing to do with this interest at all.)

Sameeha, the local computer teacher at TYO and my personal translator for the morning, and I set off for Reem’s cooking shop around 10 a.m. for our epicurean expedition. The dish of the day was Ouzi, a rice-based dish with chicken, lamb, peas, peanuts, and a variety of spices (including cardamom, ginger, clove, laurel leaf, and cinnamon). For three hours, Reem explained how she prepared the broth for the rice to be cooked in, the way the chicken was cooked, and the different spices that went into the dish. As she was single-handedly cooking for 150 people, this was quite a stressful process. By observing and participating in the process, I was able to make note of how food is prepared, how much oil is used, what products are and are not in season, how expensive certain ingredients are, and the general timing of preparing a rice and meat dish. The final product was a beautiful display of ten massive platters containing layers of rice, meats, peas, and spices.

All in all, the expedition proved to be a huge success! Not only was I able to learn a thing or two about a popular local dish, but I was also able to spend a morning with two incredibly kind and welcoming Nabulsi women. I hope someone else in Nablus gets married soon!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers