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WADI AL-JAMOUS (Lebanon) - Seven years ago, Khadija Assaad began teaching the Koran to girls in the remote
Illiterate women of the poor community of North Lebanon go back to school.
Lebanese village of Wadi al-Jamous in Akkar District, Northern Governorate, but had no idea how much impact the initiative would eventually have on her poor community.
“I used to do this at home. Then illiterate women in Wadi al-Jamous came up to me; they wanted to learn how to read. I went to see the mayor, Khodr Abdelkader Akkari, who gave us a room in the municipality building. We grew little by little. I was introduced to people in charge of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Akkar. I attended a training to teach illiterate adults and they gave me books to use in class,” she said.
Khadija never attended college or high school, and only learnt to read in primary school. Like most of the girls in her village, she was married at a young age and spent most of her time at home. Now 42, she does not have children, which she says left her feeling stigmatized in this traditional rural society.
But she wanted to do something more for herself and for the women of the village. In 2008 she set up an NGO, Aleswa-al-hasana (“the good example”).
“My whole life changed, as well as the life of women who couldn’t read before attending the classes,” she said. “Women’s lives are very tough in this area. They spend their time working at home or in the fields. But when a girl knows how to read she won’t go often to pick olives in the fields. Her horizon changes and she wouldn’t work this hard. She would have a nice job that she can do at home, like becoming a seamstress, a hairdresser or a beautician.”
Khadija eventually opened a sewing workshop to help fund the literacy programme and offer more women in the village an opportunity to work outside the home. One of her brothers donated an office. The NGO has so far trained 120 girls and women in the community to read.
At the end of 2009, a delegation from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) visited the village to assess its child welfare projects, and decided to help Khadija launch an initiative to sell the clothing produced at the workshop and, in turn, use the revenue to finance special courses for students with learning disabilities.
Several months later, Khadija met Luca Babini, a New-York based Italian photographer who was working on assignment in Lebanon for Turkish denim company OrtaBlu. After hearing about the project from Babini, Orta Blu decided to partner with Khadija on a new venture which would see the women at Aleswa al-Hasana manufacture school uniforms for children in Africa. It donated 12 new sewing machines and supplied the women with denim fabric to make the uniforms, some of which have been given to schoolchildren in the village.
This summer, the women are sewing uniforms for students in Sierra Leone. “I didn’t have children, but I know that the work I’m doing has changed my society for the better,” Khadija said. “Now people look up to me. Since I started working, I feel that I am alive. Before that I was horribly bored.” (IRIN)