Hungry for change: Women entrepreneurs in the West Bank

Walking up the steps to a small concrete building nestled amidst oak and cypress trees, it’s hard to believe that this is the site of such a big and important operation.

A childcare centre next door fills the air with children’s laughter and I find myself breaking into a smile.

We’re in Al Shyoukh, Hebron, in the West Bank where CARE is supporting a group of women working in a community-based organization (CBO) making maftool—a staple of Palestinian cuisine that is similar to couscous.

We are greeted warmly as we enter by Yusra Eweidat, the founder of the group. She takes us inside and we meet some of the workers who are all women. The small room they work in is no bigger than a standard office. There, four women pour the maftool into a big round drum that spins and spins to dry the small pearls of wheat. In the early days, the group of 21 would spend hours spreading it out and setting it out to dry on the rooftop. Now, thanks to the support they received from CARE, they have the mechanized equipment that dries it much quicker.

They’ve been to countless community events and fairs, which has led to more requests for different products. The group now also makes, packages and sells herbs, cookies, syrups and more, and they have more than doubled in size now with 51 members.

It’s a good thing too. Yusra tells us the women have been working since 4 am, as there is a funeral today in the community and they need a lot of maftool.

Next we head into Yusra’s’s office. She takes a seat proudly at her desk and it’s clear that she’s the boss.

While we talk, her phone rings constantly. She answers each call with efficiency and authority.

“She’s very popular,” says one of our CARE West Bank/Gaza staff members with a smile.

How did this group of women become so successful?

“CARE really worked to engage the male leaders in the community,” says Yusra.

This is essential, and is something that CARE is working hard to incorporate into all our projects. Men must be part of the change for it to be truly effective and long lasting.

In fact, Yusra’s husband Abdel Qader Eweidat stops in and expresses how proud he is of his wife and the women who work with her.

“I always support women going out of the house. We have very talented women here in each and every sector and we should give them the opportunity to go out and do what they know best.”

“She is a role model, not just here but in other communities as well,” he says proudly.

As evidence of this, Yusra tells us that as soon as she’s finished speaking with us, she’s headed off to a conference in Egypt.

Later, a visitor stops in. Her name is Bara’a Halayka. She’s young, only 21, and is studying at university. She works with the group part-time helping with financial planning, meetings, and strategic planning.

“I met Yusra by chance at a community and she convinced me to join. I thought it would be a good work experience for me to be in a real work environment. At university, we learn about strategic planning, but we never get to implement it. Here I can.”

It’s clear from her beaming smile and enthusiasm that she is passionate about working with the group of women and about what she can contribute.

“When I’m finished university, I really want to build them a website to help them sell their products,” says Bara’a.

She also wants to created a QR code for the group to add to packaging. This code can be scanned by customers with their mobile their phones which will then go to the group’s (eventual) website or social media account.

So not only has this group created a successful business in their own right, but they are paying it forward by recruiting new, young members that will grow the business further.

As Bara’a finishes, Yusra comes into the office carrying a massive plate of cooked maftool with chicken and vegetable. It smells incredible and tastes even better.

Sitting around with Yusra, Bara’a, Anees and other CARE staff eating and laughing was one of my favourite moments of the day. Women like Yusra and the others working the group don’t know the tremendous impact they have, not just on women in business, but on the advancement of women’s right in this part of the world.

The growth in membership, recruitment of future leaders like Bara’a, and engagement of men in supporting and promoting these women-run businesses all amounts to an incredible volume of change.

Though CARE helped the group get set up with equipment, marketing and community support, it’s really these women who did all the hard work. Because of their determination and drive to succeed, their work ethic and constant desire to learn more. They’re paving the way for a more equal future not just next door, but for women throughout the West Bank, and maybe even the world.