Near East Foundation (NEF)

Founded in 1915, the Near East Foundation's mission is to help build more sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive communities in the Middle East and Africa through education, governance, and economic development initiatives. NEF is an operational NGO with projects in seven countries -- Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Palestine, and Sudan -- where we work to directly improve the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable people through programs in Peacebuilding, Civic Engagement and Education, Sustainable Agriculture, and Business Development. In the field, approximately 50 NEF staff members-all of them from the countries in which they work-partner with local organizations to find homeg...
Feb 15, 2012

Palestinian women achieve financial independence with new thyme gardens

Young girl with thyme
Young girl with thyme

In January, NEF started working with 40 women from 4 villages in the Jordan Valley to help them establish their own thyme gardens. These women are the sole supporters of their families -- a total of over 240 family members. Thyme is considered a basic component in Palestinian cooking, making it a high demand product. Thyme production has the potential to become a significant source of income for these women, who have few options to provide for themselves and their families.

NEF is teaching these women skills to maintain their gardens and providing them with basic supplies, including 2,000 thyme seeds each -- enough for each to plant 500 square meters of land. The participants will earn a significant profit from selling the thyme on the market, allowing them to gain financial stability. NEF will also provide organic fertilizers and pest control tools, along with training sessions on modern horticulture practices and marketing techniques.

Amneh, one of the 40 women, is participating in the project to support her nephews, whose father in an Israeli jail and whose mother passed away. Amneh has taken it upon herself to provide for these children. With help from the NEF agricultural team, she will be able to grow enough thyme to help provide for her family.

Nada is a 42 years old divorcee who lives with her elderly mother and two sisters. They have no stable income, only that which they receive from their brothers, which is not sufficient to support their family. Nada hopes to achieve financial independence for herself and her sisters. She is very excited about participating in the project and says, “This will decrease the financial dependence of my sisters and me on our brothers.”

NEF’s work with Amneh, Nada and the other women will last until the first cut of the harvest which is expected to be in May 2012. In the next season, the women will be able to maintain their gardens independently, harvest thyme 3 to 4 times per year, and sell it as a fresh or dry culinary herb. Each garden will yield about $150 the first year -- an important sum in an area where there are few economic alternatives. After the gardens are established, they will produce an average of $350 per year.

Participants working on their thyme gardens
Participants working on their thyme gardens
Family planting their thyme
Family planting their thyme
Jan 12, 2012

New Harvesting Methods Improve Farmer's Gum Arabic Production and Promote Forest Protection

Mahdi Abu and his wife in front of their home.
Mahdi Abu and his wife in front of their home.

NEF trainings increase income among rural farmers, promote protection of gum arabic trees and expand forests

Over the past year, NEF has worked with over 400 farmers to provide training that is changing the way forest resources are harvested in Sudan's "gum belt," and preserving an important source of revenue for people in impoverished rural areas of the country.

One such farmer is Mahdi Abu Alhassan Ibrahim.  For many of his 58 years, he has farmed gum arabic in Alodiat Alshargia, a village in the Um Ruwaba locality of Sudan’s North Kordofan State. Until recently, Mahdi Abu had never received formal training in gum arabic production. Instead, he used traditional harvesting techniques, which often damage Sudan's gum forests and threaten the future livelihoods of many communities.

“I did not know how to protect gum arabic trees,” Mahdi Abu said.  “The tools I used for tapping actually destroyed my trees. My family would cut trees for wood. I also stored my gum arabic in plastic bags—which changed its color, smell, and texture, lowering its price at market.”

Over the past year, Mahdi Abu participated in the Near East Foundation’s Sustainable Gum Arabic Production project.  He benefitted from trainings offered to the gum arabic producer association to which he belongs. The trainings provided him and hundreds of other farmers with new techniques and skills for harvesting and selling gum arabic. 

Mahdi Abu now uses improved tools for tapping which leave smaller cuts in his trees—preventing infestation by bugs and the early death of this valuable resource. He learned how to collect, clean, sort, dry, and store gum arabic seeds for future planting.

By improving the way they harvest gum, Mahdi Abu and others are now collecting a higher price at market--which has   increased income for families trying to earn a living wage throughout the "gum belt."

The semi-arid Sahelian region of Sudan is highly vulnerable to drought, land degradation, and famine. The new skills and increased revenues resulting from NEF trainings are having a significant impact on families in the region. The project also encourages planting of new gum arabic trees, which provide an important barrier to the encroaching desert in places like Mahdi Abu’s village of Alodiat Alshargia.

“With the support of the Near East Foundation, I have learned new ways to increase my income and improve my family’s well-being through gum arabic, agriculture, and micro-credit projects,” Mahdi Abu said. “We have also learned the value of gum arabic trees and the importance of protecting this resource.”

We thank you for your generous support, which helps farmers like Mahdi Abu and preserves forest resources to ensure a healthy planet for us all!

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Jan 12, 2012

Information Technology Brings Jobs, Economic Development to Rural Armenia

Youth use computers in rural Armenia.
Youth use computers in rural Armenia.

In spite of huge leaps in IT infrastructure in Armenia, major segments of the population in rural villages lack ways to access technology and the knowledge to use it. These same communities are faced with youth unemployment often reaching 30 percent or more. A growing “digital divide” leaves rural communities and the poor unconnected to an economy and society increasingly based on information technology.

In Armenia, a government initiative aims for every family to own a computer, along with improvements in broadband capacity. However, no more that 10 percent of Armenian villagers has knowledge of computers or the Internet, a reality that prevents information dissemination in rural areas.

NEF and its partners, Business Pareta and the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have worked with local entrepreneurs to establish 15 rural IT centers under the Zartnir (Wake Up!) brand. The centers are creating jobs and new sources of income, serving as hubs for education and skills training, and providing access to technology.

Though modest in size – a start-up has 4 computer stations – these IT centers have quickly become vital parts of their communities. In the village of Noratus, for example, the IT center is full from morning to night in peak seasons, and the training sessions fill quickly – with 300 people trained in the first year. Some IT centers have begun providing training in advanced topics, including game programming, to youth who aspire to work in Armenia’s burgeoning programming industry.

Each IT center is located within a rural village, providing everyone in the community with convenient and affordable access to the Internet. The centers are locally owned and operated, fostering local entrepreneurship and trust among community members. Each month, centers provide a number of trainings in computer and program use for a fee and provide some targeted training for disadvantaged groups, such as women heads of households, on a pro bono basis – grassroots corporate social responsibility. Income is generated through computer sales and service, training, and computer/Internet access.

Microfranchises offer entrepreneurs with limited or no business experience a way to start a new business with relatively low risk. NEF and its partners provide entrepreneurs with business training, business planning, technology training, marketing, and quality control training. The trained entrepreneurs are connected with financing as needed, and credit/loans are used to acquire the necessary technology, equipment and raw material to start the business.

The IT centers have developed into successful businesses, generating revenue and creating jobs by offering internet access (internet café), training (in programming, software packages, internet use), and computer equipment sales. Each business creates at least 2 permanent jobs and generates an average of $600 dollars per month in profit in their first year – significant figures in the context of rural Armenia. Each center serves a population of approximately 200 people on a regular basis and offers four multi-week courses for basic computer literacy.

Zartinir IT Center.
Zartinir IT Center.
Zartinir IT Center.
Zartinir IT Center.
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