Six years ago Khitam Sbeih rarely left the one-bedroom mud house she lived in with her family of nine in Jenin. As a woman in Palestinian society she faced a double challenge - the restrictions placed on her by an occupying force, and those from within her own male-dominated society.
Isolated and living in poverty, Khitam had no confidence in herself, or faith that her situation could change.
But that began to change when Christian Aid partner the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) gave Khitam seedlings to grow citrus fruits in her garden and helped her build a small well and irrigation system.
‘This was just the support I needed,’ Khitam says. ‘Now I produce many different crops and fruits. I sell cheese, yoghurt and milk from my sheep, and I even have bees!’
Support for farmers
PARC is one of Christian Aid’s long-standing partners in the occupied Palestinian territory and has assisted Palestinian farmers for decades.
One of the main problems facing farmers in the region is access to markets. In the Jenin area, much of their produce used to go to the Israeli domestic market or be exported through Israel.
Since the mid-1990’s Israel’s closure policy – where movement controls have been imposed into, out of and within the West Bank and Gaza – has restricted the ability of Palestinian farmers to market their goods profitably, leaving many of them impoverished.
PARC establishes cooperatives that help farmers bargain collectively at market to get a fair price for their goods. They also help farmers make new trade links where possible, provide practical help such as training in new farming practices, and help resolve issues around water shortages in the region.
‘I have a lot of gratitude for the savings and loan cooperative that PARC set up here,’ explains Khitam. ‘It’s not just about financial support – they’ve also helped to change the mindset here by empowering women…we get moral support now and my husband loves the fact that I’m hard working and we can farm together.’
Despite the hardships Khitam has faced in her life, she refuses to feel sorry for herself: ‘With hard work and patience anyone can succeed. I looked at other women taking loans and thought “I can do that.” Now look at me – I’m a businesswoman!’
Khitam and her family have used the profits from her business to build a new house, made of bricks not mud, with enough room for all of them to live comfortably.
Khitam’s passion for change has not only changed her life but she has passed it on to her children as well. ‘My daughter wants to be a doctor, not a teacher [which is what most women train to be if they stay in school]. I want her to do whatever she has ambition for. Every parent should want their child to be more than they had chance to be.’
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