We are Noor Women’s Empowerment Group, a grassroots, economically-independent project created by and for refugee women from Aida and al-Azzeh refugee camps in the Bethlehem area.
We are a group of 13 women who have disabled children and/or are solely in charge of our families. In addition to dealing with social stigma, we face financial issues that prevent our disabled children from getting adequate education or care. Through Noor WEG, we are striving to empower ourselves and find solutions to our everyday problems.
In the beginning of 2010 some of us met with two foreign volunteers who had lived and worked in Aida Camp for a while. They offered their help as they knew some of us have disabled children.
Life is very difficult with a disabled child, both economically and psychologically, particularly in a refugee camp where virtually no resources are available for people with disabilities.
With the help of the volunteers and one of the women in our group (who later became the Project Coordinator) we started a Mother’s Club. We met once a week and discussed our problems and how we could solve them.
One of the first problems we discussed was how to afford the nappies for some of our disabled children. Many of our children need a number of nappies every day, but they are a costly product that represents a heavy burden on our families’ budgets. Our first decision as a group was to combine our money and purchase nappies in bulk from a Palestinian factory in Hebron. Because the factory makes “B quality” nappies, sold normally to hospitals and clinics, they are much less expensive than those sold by the local pharmacies. This collective effort enabled us to save a significant amount of money.
Our first success through Noor WEG made us realise that if we work together, we are more powerful and can improve our lives through our own efforts. However, we also realised that our ability to improve the lives of our children and our families would remain limited unless we could find a way to generate income. That is where the idea of cooking classes started.
To support the project financially, we decided to offer traditional Palestinian cooking classes. Every week, we take a small group of people on a tour around Aida Camp and we teach them how to make traditional Palestinian food in our collective kitchen. After preparing the meal, we all sit and enjoy the food while we talk about how it is to live in the camp, our every day life as refugee women, and Palestine in general.
All of the money from the classes goes to the project and each woman who works in the cooking class gets paid for her work. Every few months, we women decide how to use the money collected from the classes. Part of it goes to ensure we can print off more booklets; twice a year for eid we buy clothes and shoes for our disabled children; once a year we organise a day trip to locations in Palestine (such as a family swimming pool in Nablus, a fun fair in Ramallah or the zoo in Qalqilyia) for all the families.
In 2011, we started a new income-generating activity. We organise home stays in Aida camp for foreigners who come to Palestine for a short period and wish to experience life in a refugee camp, discover the Palestinian culture, taste traditional Palestinian food and learn some Arabic. All the proceeds from the home stays go to the host families.
In 2013, we published our first recipes booklet called Zaaki. Tasty Palestinian Recipes from our Kitchen in Aida Refugee Camp. It has been such a success that in 2015 we have published its second edition!
Since forming Noor WEG, several individuals have also generously assisted us. A Palestinian friend donated a commode chair for one of the children who needed it for the toilet and the shower; some foreign friends sponsor the education of some of our children; and recently a foreign organisation helped us to print our recipes booklet. We are very grateful for all these donations.
Our various income-generating activities help us in our every day life, but over the years our biggest victory has been (and continues to be) advancing on our self-empowerment as women. Now we are more inspired, confident and creative, we have learnt to express ourselves better and we are willing to learn new skills that will help us on our journey.
With the help of some volunteers, we work hard to develop our project by improving our admin and coordination skills, as well as learning English and computer skills.
Apart from these, we also cultivate our body and soul by learning yoga and relaxation techniques, and we organise workshops where we discuss issues of interest such as how to improve the nutrition of our families.