My foodie tour of the West Bank and Gaza

Written by Maxime Michel, a Program Manager with CARE Canada’s Humanitarian Assistance and Emergencies Team (HAET)

I’m standing across from tables full of pastries, honey, cheeses, and olive oil. People hurry to buy the handmade soap before it runs out; vendors restock theirs display tables to show off their delicacies.

No, I’m not at a farmer’s market in Canada. I’m in the West Bank.

Food from bazaar in West Bank

When you think of the West Bank and Gaza, food markets like this one are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. While these regions have experienced significant crises, the people who live here are incredibly resilient and determined to build successful futures for themselves and generations to come. And a big part of securing this prosperous future is ensuring access to healthy food and empowering the local economy.

I recently visited two of CARE Canada’s fantastic projects, undertaken through local partner organizations, and funded by the Government of Canada. The projects aim to improve access to nutritious food by helping community organizations and co-ops, as well as individual farmers, to increase their revenue and build their savings, thereby empowering entire communities for the long-term. The projects also focus on increasing women’s leadership and role in the agricultural sector, and will have reached more than 30,000 people by next year.

Maxime Michel visits CARE projects in the West Bank.

The project has helped community organizations expand their businesses. In Gaza City, we helped Jameela Dallol and her women’s organization rebuild their kitchen for food preparation – they are known to have the best dishes in the area! The business was given a makeover that included a new storefront, kitchen and washroom. The new fridges and stoves helped them save time and ensure they meet hygiene standards, which means more customers and more income. The whole team cooked us a delicious chicken and couscous dish and proudly showed off their cooking skills.

In another visit, we got to sample delicious cheeses produced by another community-based organization, in Sa’ir, West Bank, 100% female owned and managed. These women were able to obtain a hygiene certification which ensures that their products get sold in local supermarkets. I liked the cow’s milk cheese the most, but the goat cheese one was also delicious with a dash of olive oil and accompanying piece of pita bread!

Maxime Michel visits CARE projects in the West Bank.

My favourite part of the visit was the “Open Day” bazaar in the West Bank that featured local vendors, organizations and female leaders in the community. This is where I saw the beautiful displays of honey and other goodies you can see in my pictures. One of the most moving moments of the event was during our panel on women’s leadership in Agriculture. One woman leader, noted how special this event was, because it brought together female producers from Gaza with female producers from the West Bank, to learn from each other’s experiences. She said: “I’m dreaming. I spent all morning at my window. I never thought the day would come when I would set foot in the West Bank – I can’t believe I am here” – it was a remarkable moment.

Linking back to lasting change

Maxime Michel visits with a farmer in the West Bank.

This project visit really helped me understand how much CARE’s emergency work is linked to our development work. In emergency contexts, people may be under the impression that aid agencies leave shortly after the peak of the crisis, or that we only provide immediate, life-saving support for the short-term.

While we work to meet immediate needs during emergencies, CARE also ensures that the support we provide lasts, and evolves as the emergency phase transforms, so that people are better prepared should another crisis arise in the future. CARE prides itself on delivering lasting change, meaning we develop and help people implement long-term solutions to improve their lives and the lives of future generations.

What I will remember about Gaza & the West Bank is not about despair or destruction. It’s about incredibly resilient people and farmers, who not only make delicious food, but also, who work towards bettering their own lives and those of their community.

Learn more about CARE’s work to increase access to healthy food and nutrition >>