Handmade Palestine is an incredible initiative that creates real impact in women's lives in Palestine. We initially began as a small display in the corner of a Cafe in Ramallah, Palestine. My husband and I had the idea to support women artisans while raising money and donating it to plant trees at Mashjar Juthour. The second year I created a small website and sold 3k USD and was over the moon. The women we bought from were also very pleased. From the beginning, we never had a vision to create a small social enterprise and develop a beautiful website to sell handicrafts. But we were rather lucky that that's exactly what happened, and so, too, are the women who work with us.
I'm ashamed to admit that several times over the years I've decided to close Handmade Palestine. I've been a volunteer since the beginning and we've had years where we barely broke even. It's taken its toll and often demanded more energy than I could give--as the mother of small children with a full time job. I remember distinctly the day one of our artisans came in and asked me if I had an order for her group. She told me repeatedly and with a smile, "Bidna shoghal. Lazim nishtrghil." We want work. We need to work.
I told her I decided to stop. It wasn't raising money to plant trees and that had always been the point of it. She grabbed my shoulders and smiled again, leaning into my face, "But it makes money to always pay your bills. And then I can pay my bills. You cannot close Morgan. We need you."
I dropped into a seat and put my head in my hands. "Dalal! You have terrible timing," I told her smiling.
"Alright. I'll keep going. For you." I told her.
And that was the truth. We've kept going for her and the women artisans.
I know that was the right decision. I was reminded of it towards the end of Covid when a woman artisan told me, "We ate because of you. You were the only one who ordered from us during Covid." I cried. I wish I could have done more.
Yesterday I flipped through a copy of This Week in Palestine. I wasn't terribly interested in this month's topic on the financial sector in Palestine but my eye caught on some artwork. And then on the words themselves.
[...T]he participation of women in the employment market, the number of women-owned SMEs, and women's rates of access to finance in Palestine are among the lowest in the world. Only seven nations have female labor force participation rate that is lower than that of Palestine (17 percent in 2021). In 2017, it was reported that only 26 percent of SMEs in Palestine were owned by women, and the majority of these existed in the informal economy."
I was shocked. And then I wasn't.
I thought about the women artisans with Handmade Palestine. There's a good reason we exist and succeed as an e commerce business. How else can these women artisans get their crafts into your hands? Most of our customers aren't going to visit Palestine any time soon, so they will only ever see these handicrafts in a shop or online. Many of our women artisans don't have English language skills, computer skills, marketing experience, to say nothing of the fact that any business in Palestine trying to sell internationally faces unique challenges because we are under occupation. From our shipping costs to accessing payment providers or even being allowed to utilize Instagram shopping or open paypal accounts--it's all off limits to us.
Of course these women can't begin their own SME or even succeed in getting paid work. For many of them, they create at home because it is the only space open to them. So they must find markets for their products. During Covid and beyond, Handmade Palestine has offered an essential market for these women artisans. But it's also done so much more. We've built relationships, personally and professionally, and supported artisans in qualifying them and their products through professional services and consultations.
Last year, we bought over 60k USD in handicrafts, cash paid directly to artisans up front. Last year, you directly sustained livelihoods in Palestine with your purchases. This year, we invite you to do your holiday shopping here on our site and to let your friends and family know that their gift is not only uniquely hand crafted in Palestine, but supports Palestinian artisans' ability to continue to create AND to put bread on the table.
From all of us at Handmade Palestine, the 31 artisans and cooperatives, the more than 700 individuals, we thank you and wish you a blessed holiday season.