As Gaza enters its eleventh year of the Israeli blockade, the Palestinian territory is suffering record levels of unemployment with an increasing number of people sliding into abject poverty. In response, the European Commission and its humanitarian partner organisations are providing start-up funds and skills training to help people resume work and become self-sufficient. The support has enabled people like Wisram, Wafa and Jasmin to set up small businesses, sparking hope for the future.
It is a busy month for Wafa Arafat, 50. Her thriving sewing business has just received an order of 1000 school uniforms. The humanitarian organisation Première Urgence Internationale, who has helped Wafa establish the business with funding from the EU, also helps pay for the fabric.
“This is truly what I love doing,” Wafa says, changing threads on her sewing machine. “It is what I’m good at.”
In the summer of 2014, as tanks rolled into the farmland surrounding Wafa’s village near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, the entire community fled. When they returned, most houses were destroyed or damaged, including Wafa’s. The community has now largely been rebuilt and Wafa specialises in making ornate gowns and dresses with traditional Palestinian patterns.
“What truly makes me happy is when my customers put on their new dress and they smile,” she says. “My plan now is to use my savings into investing more in the business.”
“I want to prove that anyone can start from the bottom and become successful,” she adds. “I want to show other women that they too can improve and become self-reliant.”
In a small backroom in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Wisram As Sufi, 30, unscrews the case of a computer and carefully removes the circuit board. The room is filled with old computers in different states of disrepair. A variety of small perfume bottles sit on a separate shelf, for sale at various prices.
Wisram’s original business was lost when a tank shell hit his house during the 51 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in 2014. The following year, he re-opened the computer repair shop with the financial assistance from Première Urgence Internationale, an EU partner organisation. He has hired two staff and now brings home close to 400 US dollars a month. With six children to feed, however, it’s still difficult to get by.
“I’m now living in a rented house, but the business keeps me afloat,” Wisam says. “For now, I’m just breaking even. But I’m hoping to turn a profit soon.”
The sole breadwinner for her four children, Hala Abu-Amra is raising poultry near the city of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. She meticulously tends to her 50 chickens, getting up at the crack of dawn to make sure her animals stay healthy and keep producing high-quality eggs. A new agreement with a local trader guarantees that she is able to sell 100 eggs a week, leaving Hala’s family with plenty left-over for personal consumption. Supported by the European Commission’s partner Action Against Hunger, Hala has received business training and drawn up a modest business plan to further boost sales.
“If I can connect with more distributors, I’m hoping to sell 350 eggs a week,” Hala says, as she throws feed to a dozen chickens gathering around her feet in the pen.
The next step for her burgeoning business includes investing in a brand new incubator and broadening her network of local distributors. With the profit, she wants to invest in her children’s education and rebuild her modest house which was damaged in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in 2014.
But life wasn’t always like this for Hala. The 30-year-old single mother used to constantly worry about money, relying on her mother-in-law and other family members for hand-outs. The family was reduced to eating two simple meals a day, mostly bread and beans. Meat was a rare treat.
“But things are different now,” Hala says. “Life is much better.”
Yasmeen Mashal lost her livelihood—a hair salon based in the family home—when a rocket hit the house during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
“We moved into the house of a relative and I had to start my business from the very beginning again,” she recalls.
After receiving business training from Action Against Hunger, an EU-funded humanitarian organisation, she has launched an impressive marketing campaign, selling her business on social media and street banners.
For now, Yasmeen takes odd jobs cutting hair in her home or in people’s homes near Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
“My best opportunities are weddings,” she says. “I sometimes manage to make up to 300 shekels (75 euros) per week creating different hairstyles.”
With her newly-acquired business skills, Yasmeen dreams of expanding her modest home business into a proper beauty salon.
“I want to train and employ other women and become completely independent,” she says.
Although still in its start-up phase, the 30-year-old says that it is her business that keeps her going and gives her hope.
“I only have this to wake up to every morning,” she says. “Even if I ever get married, leaving my business is not an option.”
Last updated 01/03/2017