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Women refugees: hope in the future

Written by Melica Rochi for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

Amal al-Mustakbal, Hope in the Future, is the name of a cultural center in Bethlehem's Aida refugee camp. This name holds inside of itself many different meanings. It represents not only the wishes about the future for children and the Palestinian refugees in general, but even the name of a founding member, Amal.

I met another co-founder of Amal al-Mustakbal, a charismatic woman tested by an intense life and all the sufferings she has experienced. Painfully travelling more than twenty years back in time, Fatima told me how the center was born. After the beginning of the First Intifada, when children were in the streets without the possibility to study and go to a safe place,women residents of the Aida camp decided to open a kindergarten for the children and recreation center for women. In the beginning, the center was no more than a small room where activities were hosted.In 1991 some 30 children took part in the kindergarten and its activities while the number of children grew to 60, then 80 while finally reaching 140 in 1992.

Presently, Amal al-Mustakbal takes care of 60 children, aged 4-5, during the mornings and offers additional courses and activities for young people throughout the day, including language classes and traditional dabka dancing. Once each month the centre hosts a visiting doctor, since there is no medical clinic in the Aida camp.

The group receives its funding from individual donors, cutting with NGO funding after the Oslo process in order to ensure the independent continuation of its activities.

Amal al-Mustakbal also regularly hosts some 25 women who work together in the one of the most world-renowned arts -Palestinian embroidery and traditional dressmaking. Embroidery is very important for the life of the women in Aida. It’s a moment in which women can gather and speak together, sharing their problems and challenges, but it's primarily an opportunity to hand down the traditional arts, preserving Palestinian cultural heritage while supporting themselves.

Palestinian embroidery is more than just a craft - it is an integral part of the Palestinian geographical and cultural landscape. Many of the patterns used in Palestinian embroidery include designs which reflect the women's impressions of their daily surroundings. “The women have the possibility to find their space when are working here and each of them is totally free to express herself and her creativity”, Fatima noted.

Depending on the region in Palestine, traditional patterns used in Palestinian embroidery are designs of geometric shapes and often symbolize good health, hope, prosperity and protection. For every festive occasions were different kind of weaving. Fatima showed us her wonderful homemade bridal dress.

The Bethlehem area has a long past with the skill of the cross-stitch. Bethlehem embroidery, developed in Bethlehem and the nearby villages of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, is unique to this area and different from the predominant cross-stitch embroidery used in other regions of Palestine. Women of other villages in the Jaffa and Lydda regions later produced imitation of Bethlehem embroidery. The motifs represented in Bethlehem and Jerusalem embroidery are dominated by vibrant reds, golds and yellows.

Moreover, today Palestinian women embroider dresses and other articles of clothing and accessories in the traditional style not only to keep the tradition alive, but also as a means of economic subsistence. For women facing restrictions of movement imposed by the Israeli military, work that can be done in the home is vital, and embroidery fits that bill.

Fonte: Alternative News - 06.01.2014


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