When we think of the Gaza Strip, where the buildings bombed over a year ago still lie in ruins and the ground – visibly or not – is still stained with blood, it’s easier to think of suffering than inspiration. It’s easier to think of wounds than life, easier to imagine dust than light. It’s painful to envision a place where children can draw images of carnage and loss more readily than flowers or cartoons. When Gaza has cried out, the world has so seldom answered. And Gaza has not only asked Where is our justice? but also Where are our paintings? Where is our cloth? Where are our handicrafts? What can we create?
A group of young people (click here to see a report about them) from Gaza has asked these questions, and they have also answered them. Youthbank, a youth-led group that helps young people decide how to use resources and strengthen their own communities, decided to work together and create a Bazaar where young people who make products by hand (jewelry, embroidery, graphics, woodwork, pottery, food) could market and display their creations at the University of Palestine. Their work is not only energetic and resourceful; it is also inspiring in the truest sense of the world, borne of a spirit and resilience that refuses to be limited by the blows dealt to their home.
We at Dalia Association were struck and moved by Youthbank, and we wanted to connect our work to theirs. Among our goals is to make grants that support inspirational and relevant civil society initiatives, especially grassroots efforts that are supplement local resources. Community-controlled grantmaking increases the transparency, accountability and professionalism of local initiatives. We were excited by Youthbank’s work in Gaza in large part because it shares these goals: it supports youth initiatives by calling young Palestinians to present proposals and then allotting small grants for projects that aim to create social change. Facilitating creativity and change in Gaza felt all the more urgent.
Inspired by their mission, we gave a grant of $1200 to Youthbank in order to fund their Bazaar. This isn’t a great deal of money, but it creates many opportunities: to secure resources, to organize, to support each other, to network and build contacts, to improve their projects, and to market them effectively. The Bazaar required extensive planning and coordination: administrative tasks, meetings and communication both with the participants and with the university that housed them, arrangements with community organizations, marketing, financing, and so on. And the young organizers rose to the occasion every step of the way, showing exactly the kind of commitment and creativity that Dalia Association so admires. (Since Dalia Association cannot physically enter the Gaza Strip, the American Friends Service Committee in Gaza offered its help to Youthbank in their planning and reporting.)
The Bazaar itself was held for two days in December 2009, and it was a spectacular success. Around 450 people attended, and at least 200 purchased something – that’s an impressive percentage! What this means, too, is that people felt moved and impressed by the young people’s initiative and skill, and that they were compelled to support them. It’s possible to buy mass-produced, cheaply-made handicrafts for much less money, but this Bazaar was about something very different: community, strategy, and solidarity.
While the success of the Bazaar is certainly reflected in the quantifiable outcome (the number of participants, the number of purchases, and so on), the less tangible results are even more inspiring to us. By this we mean the way in which the participants, the young people themselves, gained skills and confidence from their work. Maha Al-Qdwa, a young woman who contributed embroidered handicrafts to the Bazaar, told Youthbank that she wanted to start her own small business selling jewelry and crafts. Another participant, Ahmad Abu-Za’iter, sold all of his products in the Bazaar, and expressed reassurance and renewed energy about finding other venues and securing other initiatives to sell his artwork. Clearly, the community project had been inspiring – to their community, certainly, but also to the young people themselves.
We were excited to sponsor a project that supported youth initiatives – both creative and entrepreneurial – and showcased their abilities. And we were moved to see this project make our core philosophy come alive. The Bazaar helped its young organizers build their capacities, but also realize the capacities they already had. It gave them a practical opportunity to participate in a complicated social and professional process and to see that they were more than successful. The project not only fulfilled its stated goals, but also opened new horizons for its participants, new ways to think about what they could do – as individuals and as a community so often categorized as a place of crisis, not creativity.
We’re grateful for the chance to work with Youthbank in Gaza, and we’re eager to keep supporting such inspiring initiatives!