A women’s collective, formed at the Aida refugee camp, is hoping their skills in the kitchen will help them to improve their circumstances.
The group consists mainly of mothers, nearly all of who have disabled children. Their cookery project stemmed from a real need to raise money for equipment for disabled children.
Many disabled children in the camp go without basic services, are hidden from view and don’t receive the opportunity to attend school. But, getting the women together in a supportive network, at first, proved to be problematic.
“At the beginning, everything was really difficult,” says 32-year-old Islam, one of the group’s members.
“There was a lot of gossiping about the project in the camp, with foreigners coming to our home, but now people are supportive”, she told reporters, describing the initial reluctance from husbands and even the women themselves at first.
Brought up with the traditional Palestinian hospitality, the idea of charging strangers to eat their food was unheard of. Their husbands were also reported to feel unease at the idea of men being admitted to the classes.
But, for Islam, whose husband, like most men in the camp, is unemployed, the co-operative is providing her with the opportunity to earn an income without abandoning her domestic duties and learn English so she can deal with foreigners.
Zeitun Kitchen offers cookery classes and catering services for weddings and other special family gatherings in Gaza. They have also produced, Zaaki, a small booklet of recipes in collaboration with a grass-roots female empowerment group based in Bethlehem.
Cooking in the camp for the 13-strong-group hasn’t been without a fare share of difficulty. Almost 1 million people live in Gaza and many depend on the basic food assistance provided by the United Nations. While the women have had to learn to adapt to the privations of life in Gaza, they also face shortages in power and cooking oil – an essential ingredient in most Palestinian dishes.
Israel’s ban on foodstuffs, the destruction and restriction of access to their agricultural land and the imposition of limits imposed on Gaza’s fisherman in regards to how far from shore they can lower their nets, are also part of the daily trials for the women of Zeitun Kitchen and the rest of Gaza for that matter.
Food has proved to be more than just a necessity here. While it has the ability to nurture and bring people together, it is also helping the people of Gaza to shed more light on the impossible political situation they face.