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Women in Palestinian Refugee Camp Make Face Masks During COVID Lockdown

Coronavirus crisis has caused a widespread loss of income in Palestine, where the battle against the global pandemic is made more challenging by the decades-old military occupation.  Restriction of movement has been a daily reality in the occupied West Bank, hindering commercial activities and economic development. The recent Covid-related closures and restrictions have affected the Palestinian economy terribly, pushing hundreds of thousands of households into poverty.  

With little reserves to absorb the blow of the pandemic, most local artisan groups have been struggling to stay afloat. The sales of their products have plummeted, and they are deprived of the necessary liquidity to continue operating. Additionally, as handcrafts are not essential items by nature, many fear that their products will not fare well in times of economic hardships felt locally and globally.  

However, some industrious local artisan groups have been adapting to the shifting demands of the pandemic by pivoting their craft-making:

The women at Amari Women’s Program Center, which runs various social services for the residents of Al-Amari refugee camp, near the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, were among the first to put their innovative ideas to test and their creative skills to work. 

Despite the curfews and lockdowns in the camp, the hands that hold the embroidery needle have not stopped moving. Members of the Center have been skillfully turning Palestine’s popular crafts into the most sought-out product of the day: reusable face masks with traditional cross-stitch embroidery.  Attractive, comfortable, and planet-friendly, they have become best-selling items at Sunbula’s fair trade shop this summer.  

Dawlat Abu Shawish, who manages the embroidery and sewing unit at the Center, started experimenting with mask prototyping while still under lockdown in May. The design process, normally done in-person with Sunbula’s team, was carried out via Whatsapp with the exchange of photos and feedback. Once the mask designs were agreed upon, Dawlat cut the fabric and distributed them to women in the camp, who would then embroider and sew the masks from home. By the time Sunbula reopened its shop after lockdown was lifted in June, the masks were ready to go.

The masks, embroidered with the traditional 'Canaanite Star’ or 'Cypress’ motif on cotton, have been very popular at the shop, and often sell out as soon as they are stocked. Dawlat and her group of women are now happily busy keeping up with the demand of their face masks.

Currently the only craft production activity at the Center, which remains shut due to the lack of work, the women hope that earnings from the sale of the masks will pool together enough liquidity to help them fully reopen the Center soon.

We hope to support more artisan groups in Palestine, like the Amari Women’s Program Center, and we can do better with help from all of you.

We are raising funds for our partner producer groups through our ongoing crowdfunding campaign, and each contribution will go towards aiding these groups with the liquidity that they need to sustain their operations.

Support our crowdfunding appeal here 


Why reusable masks?  Read about environmental impact:
Coronavirus: 'The masks you throw away could end up killing a whale' - BBC