Bethlehem, Palestine – On Tuesday, June 20th, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) completed rehabilitating three Bethlehem area olivewood workshops as part of a project aimed at supporting artisan livelihoods. The project was carried out in collaboration with the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society (HLHCS) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
With an unemployment rate hovering around 14% and climbing, the project has created opportunities for local workshops to expand the scope of their work while ensuring healthy and safe working conditions for their artisans. Prior to rehabilitation, many workshop artisans worked under hazardous conditions, endangering not only their own health, but the health and well-being of their family and neighbors.
One of the workshop owners, Mr. Waseem Musleh, stated, “When I went to my workshop, I was feeling as though I was going to die there. The sawdust was piling up, the building structure was unstable, and I was operating dangerous machines with very little lighting. But now everything is well organized, the building is secure, there’s plenty of light and ventilation, there’s electricity. I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this dream a reality for me and my family.”
Another workshop owner, Mr. Majed Odeh, commented: “We had no suction system in the painting area. I didn’t want to expose any of my sons to the toxins—I’m old, but they still have their lives ahead of them. So for years I was doing the painting by myself, inhaling the toxins. Now, with the suction system, we can do our work without worrying about getting sick.”
Mr. Nicola Sansour, a school teacher and workshop owner also commented: “I just got a new order for olivewood crafts, and I’m really excited to work on it in my new workshop. This rehabilitation gives me hope for life.” Until the project, Mr. Sansour had been working in a makeshift workshop made of tarp and corrugated metal outside his home.
Regarding the impact of the project, HCEF’s Site Engineer, Mr. Khalil Hanania, stated, “These three workshops are very characteristic of working conditions here. Many people are working in their basements, in very difficult contexts with little hope that things will improve. When you feel stuck in a rut, you don’t really think about how to advance your business, you just focus on surviving. Now we can notice the difference. Now these families have hope that they can improve themselves and their economic situation. They are ready to work.”
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