Saturday, August 18, 2018

Women in Aida Camp improve disabled childrenís lives through cooking classes


By Annelies Verbeek - April 30, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Aida refugee camp] [Aida camp] [refugee camps] [women‘s rights] [Food and Culture]

“I am very proud. We never thought we could do this. But we have accomplished something truly great,” Islam Abu Odeh told Palestine Monitor, while sitting in her home in Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem. She and other women created a school for disabled children in the Camp. They did so by teaching cooking classes.

Abu Odeh recalls difficulties living with her son’s disability before starting the project. “We did not receive any help with medicine or physical therapy. UNRWA said there was not enough funding.”
 
Abu Odeh had to take her son Mohammad, who suffers from cerebral palsy, to the hospital three times a week. She did not receive financial aid. “It was very difficult,” Abu Odeh told Palestine Monitor, “our financial situation in the camp was very bad, and I was busy taking care of Mohammad all day.” Abu Odeh has five other children.
 
“When my friend suggested I start a project, I felt very afraid,” she added. “I did not speak English, and I was always at home taking care of my son.” She also recalls feeling held back by conservative values in the camp. “I was afraid of what people would say.”
 
Despite this fear, she and other women started teaching cooking classes as a new way to generate income.“The first time I taught the cooking class, I felt very shy.” A friend helped her translate to English, and the participants had seemed to enjoy the class. More people started to come. “It felt good. I started to believe this could really grow.”
 
Abu Odeh started teaching the cooking classes in her own kitchen, but the space inside her small home was limited.
 
After two years, the women saved enough money from the cooking classes to rent a space behind Abu Odeh’s house. “Things became bigger. I started speaking more English, and we made a booklet with recipes for guests to buy.”
 
But still, Abu Odeh felt the project could grow larger. “We wanted to do something for our children,” she said.
 
“We started thinking about a school,” she told Palestine Monitor. “By that time, I had understood that you have to start small if you want things to grow. So I suggested to other women that we organise daytime activities for the disabled children of the camp, like a school. Just like the cooking classes, we started in my house.”
 
For two years, the women of the camp organised a school for disabled children in Abu Odeh’s house. “It was difficult, because it happened every day in my home, and there was not much space.  But I also felt proud, because I was doing something good for my son and other children in his situation,” Abu Odeh explained.
 
Everything changed when a Belgian official attended a cooking class two years ago. “I only found out that he was an important person later, when I received an email from him. He said that if we write a proposal, the Belgian government would be glad to finance any project to help our children.”
 
“I felt so happy and proud. I never thought that we could do this,” Abu Odeh said. She and other women worked on the proposal together. They received funding for the equipment needed to do physical therapy in the camp.
 
The women’s group now had more leverage to pressure UNRWA to give them a space. “Eventually, we had a place and equipment, so we made a school.” The school, Noor Center for Disabilities, now serves 45 disabled children in the camp. There are physical therapy classes for the disabled, but also a space for children with learning difficulties.
 
“We are very happy with what we accomplished, but we can still grow, Islam said. “I hope even more people will come to attend the cooking classes in the future so we can do even more projects.”
 
Still, Abu Odeh continues to worry about the children of the camp and life under occupation. “The children in the camp do not have a childhood. They are forced to grow up at a very young age.”
 
According to a UC Berkeley Law School study, Aida refugee camp is the most tear gassed place in the world. Abu Odeh recalls waking up in the middle of the night from tear gas entering her home. “I saw my seven-year-old daughter suffocating. I still worry that it damaged her health.”
 
But Abu Odeh explained she thinks that what she is doing is the best kind of resistance. “Our presence here alone is resistance. If we make our lives better, teach our children, go to work, this is resistance,” she said. “If I want to fight the occupation, I will fight it with my children’s diploma.”
 
Abu Odeh emphasized that she wants people to visit them in the camp and see their situation. “Unfortunately, many people think that these places are dangerous. I want them to come here and see how well we receive guests. How despite everything, we still smile.”
Lead photo: Islam and her son Mohammad stand outside their home in Aida refugee camp.

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