* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The ICRC has been working in Israel and the Occupied Territories since 1967. For fifty years, we have been assisting people during difficult times. After a recent evaluation of micro-economic projects that were established four years ago, we found that many still provide crucial livelihood support for the most vulnerable families.
Marwan Jaber, the farmer
Marwan Jaber, a 48-year-old Palestinian, lives in the area known as H2 in the old city of Hebron in the West Bank. Together with his two brothers, Hazem and Atef, they were struggling to support their families in 2012.
Thanks to ICRC’s micro-economic initiative, the Jaber brothers were able to improve their farm and build a greenhouse to better nurture their crops. Today, they plant different types of vegetables throughout the year and are able to provide for their 20-member family.
“I could not imagine that one day I would run a good business, I only dreamt of maximizing the few strawberry plants I had in 2010. The ICRC’s project has been a milestone in our lives,” said Marwan.
“These days, we produce cucumbers and sell them fresh at the market. In a few weeks, we will replace the cucumbers with green beans. We optimize the greenhouse according to the demand in the market and use it the whole year.”
In 2012, the ICRC helped different families to start or improve small businesses in H2. To this day, all the projects have generated an income of 15,300 USD per month, with an average of 1,020 USD per project. The total income has increased from 10,500 USD in 2011 to 18,700 USD in 2014.
Bassam Al Jaabari, the shoemaker
Bassam Al Jaabari, a 49-year-old shoemaker, lives with his 10-member family in one of the main streets in H2 in the old city of Hebron.
Four years ago, Bassam needed to replace his sewing machines to increase production and support the whole family. In 2012, he received two new sewing machines as part of the ICRC’s initiative to expand and improve businesses in H2, one of the most sensitive areas in the West Bank.
Now, Bassam has a workshop next to his house, where he sews shoes. He also treats the leather before it is sent for the final assembly to a shoe factory in Hebron.
Bassam’s children also help him during school breaks.
“There is no place for the children to play here in H2, so instead of them getting into trouble in the streets, they help me with the production and learn a profession at the same time,” said Bassam.
Apart from the economic support, Bassam and others families also reach out to ICRC when the waves of violence increase in H2.
“I know I can call the ICRC any time. They are always available. This is sometimes more important for us living in H2 than the projects they fund or the assistance that they give us,” added Bassam.
The ICRC’s micro-economic initiatives have helped other families in H2 to increase their incomes to pay for school fees and, in some cases, set aside as savings.
Mohammad Dib Jaber, the maftoul maker
In 2003, Mohammad Dib Jaber, the head of a nine-member family in H2, started to produce maftoul, the traditional Palestinian couscous made from flour and semolina. The dish is very common among the residents of H2, especially in winter.
“Our grandmothers used to produce it manually. Now, we use special machines, which allow us to increase production,” said Mohammad.
The situation was completely different four years ago: Jaber’s income was not enough to meet his family’s needs, and he was not able to pay the university fees of his son. The restrictions in the movements of people in H2 made it more complicated for them to find a solution to improve their lives.
To improve their living conditions, the Jabers received assistance from the ICRC. Among the tools they received were an electronic scale, a sewing machine and an electronic lift, which they could use to bring the matfoul to the rooftop to dry.
“We are able to produce much more now thanks to these tools. The maftoul is exported even to Gulf countries. My sons are also working with me and making a living. The income is much better than before,” said Mohammad.
Four years after the ICRC’s micro-economic initiatives were given, 25 out of 30 families who benefited from the programme are still running their businesses. Ten of them increased their income from 13,300 USD to 19,500 USD per year, and invested part of their capital to improve their businesses.
Suzan Jaber, the video maker
Suzan Jaber, a 40-year-old mother of nine children, lives in old city of Hebron, the area known as H2.
A few years ago, she realised that the salary of her husband was not enough to cover the needs of their family. After a basic training in photography, she applied for a vocational training programme supported by the ICRC.
Suzan studied film production, video editing, and dubbing, for five months at the Polytechnic University in Hebron. She also received a photo camera, a video camera, DVD recorder and studio lights.
“Everyone has a dream. A small support from someone can help you turn your dream into reality,” said Suzan while editing a video on her computer.
After the five-month training, and thanks to the equipment she received from the ICRC, Suzan opened her film studio in the heart of the H2 area in the old city of Hebron.
“The training and the equipment that I received from the ICRC increased my self-confidence, so I decided to buy professional cameras, which I could not afford without credit. However, I believed that I would be able to pay off the credit from the income earned from these new cameras,” said Suzan proudly.
Today Suzan is making a living running her film studio. She has become one of the breadwinners of her 11-member family. She currently splits her time between work and her family.
“I film parties and weddings in Hebron and Bethlehem. I could work more and earn more money, but my family members, who live in a difficult quarter in Hebron, also need my daily support. I like being next to them and we are all happy with our life conditions now,” said Suzan.
ICRC’s support via vocational training has helped 15 people living in H2 in Hebron to get their current job and generate income to support their families.
Jesus Serrano Redondo is a media relations and spokesperson at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem