15 Minutes on Breaking Stereotypes in the West Bank

Episode Transcript

Kasia Souchen: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 minutes to change the world, where in 15 minutes you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Kasia Souchen and your host for this podcast.

On a recent visit to a small rural village called Bardala in West Bank, I had the honour of meeting Layla, a 27- year-old goat farmer who is shaping the future of West Bank. She wakes up every morning at, 5:00 AM she walks to the back of her home where her barn is filled with goats and sheep. Layla is often humming this early in this sleepy routine. She distributes feed into the troughs, saying her good mornings to the goats and checking on how each of them is doing as Layla expected it intuitively, one of her goats is ready to give birth. Layla has been monitoring her closely for days and can see the time has come. Today’s schedule will be a bit different and a bit more hectic, but Layla is prepared. She has delivered more than 20 goats.

She rushes back to prepare a fatur breakfast for her mother, father, and five younger siblings. She made Mo’ajanat late into the night yesterday, a dough filled with goat cheese and zatar, a mix of Middle Eastern herbs like time. Alongside the Mo’ajanat is fresh olive oil, pita and olives. Back out to the barn, It is time. The baby goat called a kid is ready to be born. Layla tends to the birth with skill and care delivering the baby goat safely. The mother goat exhausted calms as the baby goat latches for its first feeding, Layla finally exhales. Layla then milks the goats in her barn collecting goat milk carefully and meticulously. This is actually, Layla’s least favourite part of the process. Layla chose to grow her goat farm because of the new rise in popularity.

Goat milk boosts immunity, helps maintain strong bones and reduces blood pressure. Goat milk is more environmentally friendly to produce and the production can help protect future generations from the dangerous effects of climate change. Layla then sits for anywhere from one to four hours depending on the milk supply that day, manually separating the milk curds from water and pressing the beginnings of what will be goat cheese into a cheesecloth with a heavy metal press. This metal press is set up just outside the barn and can sometimes have flies or other unsanitary conditions. Next, Layla adds salt and preservatives and shapes the goat cheese into wheels. Then she leaves the wheels of goat cheese to ripen for several days.

The next step is to go to market, but in her rural area of Bardala West Bank, there was only one local market or Layla sells to her neighbours more informally. The profits are meagre at best.

Kasia Souchen: 03:24 Layla recently broke off an engagement with her fiancé at the age of 27 she is single in a social context where most women marry and have children. By that age. She feels confident in this decision and in her direction. She explains that trusting a man is like carrying water across the room on a plate that is flat. Women in leadership roles are seen as troublemakers. Women without a husband are also seen as troublemakers. Layla says, so I guess I’m a troublemaker, so be it. She smiles wide at this moment and then quickly straightens up to continue to discuss how she’s gaining leadership and trust in her community. The rest of the day and weekend hours would be spent looking for a market for her goat cheese.

Kasia Souchen: 04:07 Layla was one of the first members of the goat and sheep milk product co-op in Bardala. A group of women in the goat and sheep milk farming industry who decided to pool their knowledge and resources together instead of apart. This is when Layla first heard of CARE. Through CARE she was able to attend training on an array of technical milk production topics, but also on things like leadership and building agency and confidence.

From talking to other women, Layla saw that it is women who do most of the work in farming from hurting, feeding, milking product production and marketing. Women also bear the responsibility of the farm and the animals upkeep. There is great power in realizing she is not alone. Very quickly the women shared knowledge and tips about production and health of animals. As a group they were empowered to make decisions together with pooled savings. The women started an animal pharmacy, for the first time Layla could get medicine close by for her goats when she needed it. This improved the quality and safety of milk and the animal’s well-being, milk production, increased cheese production, increased not only partnerships, but also friendships were formed between the women.

Kasia Souchen: 05:18 Nevertheless, there was still a major challenge. Women were selling to each other and to each other’s neighbors. There was still no viable market as the location of the remote town, reliable and adequate transportation and checkpoints continue to be major issues for transporting and selling the quickly perishable milk products. Then the milk hub was born. Rasha a good friend and colleague of Layla’s works at the milk hub every day. Inside are large vats of milk, there are thermometers and heaters and all sorts of gadgets. Here the small scale farmers bring their milk daily or weekly. The milk is then tested to ensure it meets quality and health standards. Rasha skillfully moves across the room smoothly utilizing all the tools and machines. At the end, she writes notes in the ledger about the milk sample and moves on to the next.

I remember the first time I had to tell a male farmer that the milk from his farm didn’t pass the test. At first he was angry, says Rasha, but has since realized that we pool all the milk together so all the milk has to be of the highest quality and standard. Now everyone contributes and is relieved if their milk doesn’t pass knowing that it didn’t contaminate the milk supply and the rest of the co op keeps the supply up to remain profitable for all explains Rasha. The biggest game changer has been the collaboration with the private sector.

Through working with CARE, the woman have teamed up with a large dairy production company in the area. The private sector partners purchase the milk for a cost much higher than any woman would have received from selling cheese wheels to her neighbors with 50% to 75% less work and time investment. Layla and the other members now have more time and more profit, more time for additional training for further improving or increasing their farm for education for their children, for collaborating with younger women who have expressed interest in following their footsteps.

Kasia Souchen: 07:16 Layla now tutors students into the late afternoon. This is a cross of a volunteer placement and paid work, although the pay is very little, Layla finds working with youth in her community, critical for the future of her community, her business, and West Bank. The young girls in this class in particular are enormously excited to see her arrive.

When asked the age old question, what do you want to be when you grow up? A few of them say, I want to be a goat farmer like Layla they add. The land that Layla farms on does not belong to her and will be passed down to her brother who has never worked the land. Inheritance is a big roadblock for the future of Layla’s business, but she has strong willed and adamant. I will find my way to get my own land. I am after all, a troublemaker she smirks.

Kasia Souchen: 08:05 To hear more stories like Layla of empowered women who are changing their communities go to our new blog at care.ca/blog. As always, thank you for listening and subscribe on Spotify or iTunes to stay up to date on further episodes.