From Palestinian refugee camp to London, Paris, Dubai boutiques

 27 Nov 2017 - 12:38

From Palestinian refugee camp to London, Paris, Dubai boutiques
A Palestinian woman embroiders at a workshop in Jordan's Jerash Palestinian refugee camp. AFP / KHALIL MAZRAAWI


Jerash Camp, Jordan: In a small workshop in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, Halima al-Ankassuri embroiders traditional patterns onto a blue shawl, destined for sale in an upmarket Paris, London or Dubai boutique.

The 54-year-old mother of seven describes her work as "modern products with shimmering colours, embroidered with Palestinian and Islamic motifs".

"I'm proud to see Europeans wearing what we produce here and to see top fashion magazines take an interest," she said referring to the German online edition of Vogue, a large smile on her face, girded with a red veil.

The Jerash camp where she lives, in northern Jordan, was established to host more than 11,000 Palestinians who fled the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war -- hence its alternative name, Gaza Camp.

Half a century on, more than 29,000 refugees live in the camp amid poverty, unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.

In 2013, Roberta Ventura, an Italian with a background in investment banking, decided to set up a social project to help women in the camp after visiting it and seeing their intricate skills close up.

SEP Jordan (SEP for social enterprise project) aims to "change lives not only of dozens but over time, hundreds, perhaps thousands of women", she wrote in a message to AFP.

On the workshop's tables lay traditional keffiyeh chequered headscarves with inscriptions of different colours, along with cashmere shawls and handbags.

"The project started with 10 women and now they are 300," said the programme's director, Nawal Aradah. "We make products on request: shawls, handbags, towels, sheets and all kinds of household decor."

Every two months, 11 to 14 cartons containing 190 to 270 kilogrammes (420 to 600 pounds) of goods are sent to stores in Paris, London or Dubai.

They are also sold inside the Palestinian territories -- in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, said the project's regional manager, Mahmoud al-Haj. 

In a shop inside a large Amman hotel, prices range from 20 to 300 dinars ($30 to $430, 25 to 362 euros), according to Haj, who said "most buyers are foreign tourists".