Aseela Women's Cooperative
Location: Bethlehem, West Bank
Beneficiaries: Women from Dheisheh refugee camp
Aseela was established in 2004 in Bethlehem by a group women who came together to address income-generation needs of families in refugee camps and rural villages. Aseela is an innovative entrepreneurial project that aims to empower Palestinian women and to promote exquisitely Palestinian products overseas through a unique combination of grassroots economic initiatives in the West Bank and an international network of progressive organisations and consumers.
Aseela's vision is to produce top quality olive oil products that are distinctly Palestinian. The women wanted their products to reflect the local tradition that continues to thrive in their everyday customs - the abundant use of olive oil, flowers, spices and herbs in food, body care and medicine.
"People outside Palestine hear only about violence and poverty," says Wafa Khatib, a resident of Dheisheh refugee camp and co-founder of Aseela. "We wanted to show the world something beautiful from our country, by making great products from our excellent olive oil."
After more than a year of researching, collecting seed money and equipment, building the cooperative structure, and repeating trials and errors of the soap-making, Aseela began producing their first product - the Pure Olive Oil Soap - in 2006.
Although it is more costly than residual oil, commonly used by local soap-makers, Aseela insists on using only eating-quality olive oil. The result is an extremely mild and moisturizing soap, loved especially by those with sensitive and dry skin.
These products are certified Fair Trade: creating opportunities for disadvantaged producers, sustaining fair working conditions and wages, empowering women, and preserving traditional crafts and artisan skills.
Cross-stitch embroidery in Palestine
Once a traditional craft practiced by village women, Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery has become an important symbol of Palestinian culture. Embroidered pieces can be found in the homes of most Palestinian families in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel and the Diaspora beyond, adorning the walls of houses in Jerusalem, villas in the Gulf, suburban homes in the United States, and cement block houses in refugee camps. In addition, cross-stitch embroidery is given as gifts and worn by Palestinians worldwide on festive occasions.
The popularity of embroidery springs from both its beauty and its association with the Palestine of the past. Common patterns reflect the millennia-long history of the land. The designs are derived from sources as diverse as ancient mythology and foreign occupations and date as far back as the Canaanites, who lived in the area over three thousand years ago.
The handicraft also symbolises the traditional rural lifestyle of Palestine, much of which was lost after the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. Embroidery was the principal decoration of rural women's clothing. It was part of a village women's daily routine and a means of showing off her personal skills and social identity. The patterns, colours and quality of the dress reflected a woman's social standing, marital status and wealth.
Although the Palestinian cultural landscape has changed dramatically in the last fifty years, cross-stitch embroidery has remained a vibrant handicraft because, for many Palestinians, it is a familiar reminder of Palestine in the days of their grandparents or great-grandparents.