Mrs. Cherie Blair visits TYO Nablus

TYO was honored to receive Mrs. Cherie Blair in Nablus on Sunday, 3 May 2009 along with Henriette Kolb, a colleague from the recently founded Cherie Blair Foundation. The visit was Mrs. Blair's first stop on a 3-day trip to the West Bank. Her time in Nablus included a luncheon with a range of accomplished artisans and businesswomen from Nablus, a tour of the TYO Center, and focus group discussions with TYO volunteers and mothers of TYO participants. The day's activities were designed to identify needs in Nablus that could be addressed through cooperation between TYO and the Cherie Blair Foundation. The discussions revealed a great deal about the challenges to doing business in Nablus, as well as the aspirations of the members of each group. Several volunteers presented Mrs. Blair with examples of their handicrafts while explaining how the economic situation in Nablus prevents them from creating viable business ventures here. “There is an appreciation for embroidered handicrafts in our culture, but they cost too much to make and most local women cannot afford to purchase them for their homes,” said Economics major Rawand, 23, from Khallet al-Amood neighborhood in Nablus. “The purchasing power must come from the outside. However, we struggle with how to package and sell our crafts to a foreign market.” Mrs. Blair engaged in a rapid-fire brainstorming session about ways that the volunteers could apply their very advanced handiwork skills to products that would be sought after internationally. The volunteers responded in kind with great enthusiasm about the opportunity to benefit from such guidance.

Other young women spoke of the importance of practical experiences and personal development. “Before volunteering at TYO, I did not have any hope in the future. Here, I found that I have worth. TYO showed me that in order to use my degree and my skills, I must first appreciate myself,” said Aya, 21, from Beit Furik village near Nablus. “Volunteering at TYO showed me that I need more exposure to children in order to better implement my degree.” Aya is currently studying Sociology at An Najah University and hopes to become a social worker for child prisoners in Palestine.

Athare, 22, a Management Information Systems major from Nablus city echoed her peers’ sentiments. “Soon after I started volunteering at TYO, I came to understand the importance of personal development and diverse experiences. If I don’t have practical experiences, I won’t get a job. Opportunities in Nablus are extremely limited and even opportunities abroad, which culturally are seen as only for men, have significantly decreased due to the financial crisis. Now, the majority of the people who graduated in my field last semester are unemployed.”

While the young women were not shy to share the somber economic realities in Nablus with Mrs. Blair, no one present displayed the slightest hint of discouragement. They affirmed the importance of the opportunities that TYO has presented them with to gain practical experience, and the potential of a business incubator or other training program as proposed by the Cherie Blair Foundation. The volunteers emphasized their eagerness to engage their skills to improve their family’s well-being and stability, and that of the community at large.

TYO staff are already hard at work on developing a proposal about ways to operationalize the day's discussions into a collaborative project between TYO and the Cherie Blair Foundation. We are very grateful for Mrs. Blair's dedication to the cause of women's economic empowerment around the world, and her commitment to and interest in the West Bank and Nablus in particular.