A unique event took place in Wadi Fouqin, near Bethlehem: a three day workshop in which ten local women were guided in the art of basketry by the sure hands of three members of Sindyanna of Galilee’s basket weaving team from our visitor centre in Kufr Manda. The three women, Awatef Mussa, Khasna Khalaila and Sarwa Khusan stayed in the village as guests of the Project for Community Development in Wadi Fouqin, which is a United Methodist sponsored project.
Awatef, the workshop leader, said: “The course included every stage of basket weaving. The women learned how to make five basic objects: a base, a mobile, a cone, a basket and a tray. Most of the participating women are not in employment, and taking part in our workshop was an opportunity for them to get out of the house and acquire skills that could lead to paid work. Some of the women used to work as teachers, and one of them has been a nurse for 23 years. The students were very diligent and enjoyed doing the work. They asked many questions, for example, how did we learn to weave, how does one go about marketing the baskets, and what’s life like for Arabs inside Israel? I told them about Sindyanna, how we work alongside the Jews and run courses for Arabs and Jews together.”
Khasna Khalaila, who had already acted as a guide at a previous workshop in Nablus two months before, talked about how much she enjoyed teaching and meeting the women in Wadi Fouqin. She especially liked the feeling of being able to help them improve their financial circumstances. The third guide, Sarwa, said: “This was my first workshop as a guide. It was a great joy for me to take part in this project. I feel more self-confident now, and more ready to continue teaching basketry. The atmosphere in the workshop was very friendly.”
The workshop was overseen by Atta Manasra, manager of the Wadi Fouqin Community Development Project, and Aziza Manasra, coordinator of women’s activities in the project. They said all the women had a wonderful time and they were very proud of their accomplishments.
Janet Lewis, of the Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, said: “I think the next step should be to try to get the funding to do ‘part two’ of the training, then see about getting permits for three women from Wadi Fouqin to come to Kufr Manda to learn more about the actual business: how to market, how to price items, how much goes back into the project, how to keep accounts etc. They need some basic business management skills if they want to market the baskets in Bethlehem’s tourist shops (which they are already very keen to do!).”
The Wadi Fouqin Project could not exist without the support and help of Pat Clegg, an Anglican priest from Britain. Up till now, Pat has chosen to be a ‘silent’ partner in the project. Only after seeing the success of the first workshop in Wadi Fouqin, and the enthusiasm of all the women involved, has she decided to come out and reveal her moving story to us. Here is a letter Pat Clegg wrote to all those involved in the success of the workshop:
“Each of you is aware that so far I have been the ‘silent’ partner in this project. That has been deliberate. I will now explain but only after saying just how thrilled and delighted I am that at this stage it has been such a success, just seeing the happy faces, is a joy.
“This time last year my older brother was nearing the end of his life, he died on November 6th. He had no children and was a widower. He was a hardworking man, careful and caring for his neighbours as well as family and friends. Once his estate was settled there was some money left to my sister and me. This is the money which is paying for the project (or at least it will be once I succeed in sending it!!).
“My brother would have no hesitation in supporting what is happening. He had travelled widely during his time with the Royal Marines, making sure that he always met the local people, learning something of their customs and, to my amazement, quickly learning everyday phrases in whatever was the local language. To my shame and great sadness I did not really know this about him until the last few months of his life.
“So, please, in your acknowledgement, please give due credit to Mick Rhodes, it is to his memory that I have been privileged to help Wadi Fouqin. I hope to continue supporting and for certain will be visiting at some time next year.”
Translation: Yaara Lahav Gregory