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Volume 8, No. 1SPRING 2005

Windows of opportunity opening
for women in rural West Bank

By Nora Kort, IOCC-Jerusalem

Women in the West Bank village of Ti'innik listen intently during an IOCC-led workshop on public health education. IOCC programs in skills and leadership training have empowered Palestinian women to become leaders in their communities. Photo: Paul Jeffrey-ACT

Jerusalem (IOCC)Al Ilm Nour (“education is light”) and “give us more educational opportunities” were two of the many signs welcoming IOCC’s efforts at Beit Sira, a West Bank village 18 miles west of Ramallah, on the opening of the village kindergarten built by IOCC in the spring of 2004.

Throughout the West Bank, IOCC programs have opened windows of learning for adults and children alike.

“Having the opportunity to learn transformed my life. I dare say I am no longer the person I used to be — I am a new woman altogether,” said Abeer, a mother of five who participated in an IOCC health training session in her village of Kafr Dan, 82 miles north of Jerusalem.

Rabiha, who lives in Rummana, a village of 3,000 in the Jenin Governorate, expressed her feelings after completing IOCC training by saying: “My self-worth and the respect of my community came with the education and skills I acquired at IOCC’s training here in this forgotten village.”

It is true that IOCC training and education programs have been a catalyst for change and social transformation, especially in the acceptance of women and the empowerment of grassroots leaders.

But “education is true empowerment for women in rural Palestinian areas,” said Ruwaida Al-Ghoul, IOCC program coordinator in the Jenin District. “For a long time, their voices were not heard. With education and training, women have proven themselves in their own society. Their self-esteem has grown, and their opinions are sought by their family and community members.”

Ruwaida’s work with IOCC strengthened her own self-confidence, and now she has become a true community leader and mobilizer. The diversification of educational programs proved to be a key for the success of IOCC’s work.

“It’s been our dream,” said Dr. Simon A’raj, chairman of the board of the Benevolent Society in Beit-Jala, Bethlehem. “We’ve worked hard to establish a computer center at the Benevolent Society. The students and businessmen have a great need to quench their thirst and connect with the world, so this is a skill they need to learn. Now, despite the hard living conditions, they have the opportunity and all are excited.”

Community-based programs and the importance of “reaching the unreachable” are major elements of IOCC’s development work in the Holy Land.

“How can we ever forget IOCC’s work and impact?” said Ayed Qett, head of Madama Village Council, seven miles southwest of Nablus, upon IOCC’s visit to Madama Women’s Community Center, built with IOCC-USAID funds in 2003. “No other organization has ever trained our women and opened new windows of hope for them except you. What we have is a new and better world for our families, and for this we are proud.”

Since beginning work in the Middle East in 1997, IOCC has focused on education for all: men, women and children. From civil society and capacity building to women’s empowerment and job creation, IOCC continues to focus on education and skills-training based on the conviction that sustainable development comes with knowledge.

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