Weaving their way to employment

What began as an idea to help Arab farmers market olive oil is realized today at Sindyanna, with further goal of empowering Arab women.

Basket weaving (photo credit: Dotan Goor Arye)
Basket weaving
(photo credit: Dotan Goor Arye)
The Sindyanna of Galilee non-profit organization’s visitors’ center in Kufr Manda serves as a store, is where workshops are held, groups from Israel and abroad stay, and the town’s women go to work to weave beautiful baskets. The women sit in a circle, with small cups of coffee in the center, and talk while weaving. These women from the town, aged 26-50, go to the center to earn a living and be part of a cooperative. Weaving is an age-old handicraft that has gradually disappeared, and the center is bringing it back to life.
What began about 20 years ago as an idea to help Arab farmers market olive oil is realized today at Sindyanna, with the further goal of employing and empowering Arab women.
The organization is based on the concept of fair trade for a fair society, and action is taken accordingly to market agricultural products and promote cooperation between Jews and Arabs.
Sindyanna is in contact with the World Fair Trade Organization and is known as an outstanding exporter and marketer of organic olive oil, soap, za’atar, carob syrup, honey, almonds and its crowning glory, baskets woven out of palm fronds. The palm fronds -- thin palm tree branches on which dates grow – are collected from the fields during the date harvest, so the products are also ecologically based.
On my visit to the center, I met Wahiba Hujirat, a mother of four who learned the craft at the center and now works there full time teaching weaving, managing the supplies and sales, hosting groups and leading workshops. Like the other women at the center, she has undergone a meaningful process.
“Six years ago I didn’t know how to weave,” says Hujirat as she deftly works on a basket. “I started coming here to learn, and eventually people started buying my baskets. My husband is happy that I work. I wanted to study to become an English teacher, but it didn’t work out because I was raising my children.”
Last July, she went with Osnat Shperling, the manager of the visitors’ center, to a festival in England, where she gave a weaving workshop. That was a major breakthrough for her.
“Money is not what brings the women here but the possibility of going somewhere near their home and doing something for themselves,” says Shperling. “They learn how to weave and how to teach others. They travel to fairs, cook meals for groups, move around and meet people. Their husbands encourage what they do; otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible. They also study English and Hebrew here.
Wahiba, for instance, is already very proficient in English.
Two weeks ago, four women from the center went to Nablus for a week and taught women there how to weave.”
What is the principle of fair trade? As Shperling explains, “Being a fair trade organization means staying in contact with the manufacturers we work with and supporting them.
For example, by producing baskets, we are introducing new opportunities for Arab women. The town is very religious, with high unemployment rates, and not every woman allows herself to come here. We want to continue to recruit women, who will also teach other women, open the weaving field to all sectors and promote orders of baskets.”
Another woman at the center, Awataf, coordinated the course in Nablus. She is 50 and had only been employed for one year in her life in a kindergarten until discovering Sindyanna six years ago. Now she goes to the center every day, weaves at home as well and is in charge of fairs.
“What I like about the center,” says Awataf, “is the group. I also meet new people and get out of the house. My husband is happy that I am also contributing to our income. Until I got here, I didn’t know how to weave baskets, and today I actually teach weaving. It gives me confidence. I believe that the women I taught in Nablus can already weave on their own.”
The center’s secret of success, as it seems, is the fact that the women who are empowered at Sindyanna travel across the country to empower other women.For further details: www.sindyanna.co.il