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.
Over the past year, 140 women from ten organizations in the northern West Bank participated in over 70 hours of training offered by the Near East Foundation.
Mona, aged 60, is one of the women who benefitted from NEF training. She is treasurer of the Beita Women’s Association, a job she managed for many years with only a notebook and pencil. With the assistance of the Near East Foundation, Mona has professionalized and improved her work—and helped advance the work of the Beita Association.
Training topics included communications skills, preparing and using financial records, feasibility studies for small businesses, working as a team, planning, hygiene, safety, and health.
Mona attended all of the training sessions with enthusiasm and participated actively. She was especially interested in computer lessons and accounting sessions. Prior to the trainings, Mona had never used a computer. Now, Mona can use a computer to improve her bookkeeping and the records of the Beita Association.
“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” is the principle that Mona continues to live by, as she works to improve the lives of women in her community—and share what she has learned.
NEF has built a strong bond with targeted women’s organizations over four years of work, providing training and support tailored to the needs of participants. Over the past months, the women run NGOs targeted by NEF have demonstrated their ability to use this training and support to undertake new and exciting projects.
Training session have now concluded, with over 90% of women trained expressing satisfaction with the skills and knowledge they have gained. Several new jobs were created for women within participating associations; NEF also helped one organization create a new website, trained two others in marketing resulting in notable increase in sales from income-generating activities, and worked with all four to create reports on new markets and opportunities for expanding their businesses.
We are still waiting on the final assessment and report to detail our impact on participant incomes; but in the meantime, we have moved into the initial stages of the project's second round. This will involve conducting a needs assessment on women's groups in the target area in northern Jordan, from which we will select four NGOs to receive funding and training.
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