Handwoven Dreams

STORY OF Fatima Al-Jadaa
WRITTEN BY Mohamed Abd Raboh Saleh

The Prize for Women’s Contribution to Development is awarded annually by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to reinforce and strengthen the role of women as essential contributors to society, as well as effective agents of change. The award offers financial prizes to individuals and organizations that are committed to improving the well-being and status of women in member countries around the world. The prize winners are determined by a panel composed of 12 prominent women recognized as leaders in their fields, who advise the Bank on how to enhance women’s participation in the socio-economic development process.

I was born in the village of Qalqilya, a Palestinian city in the West Bank of Palestine. Shortly after my birth, the doctors informed my mother that I had a disability in my right leg, which would make it difficult for me to walk. But despite this, Allah compensated me with many other blessings. I was raised with my sisters and attended primary school in our village, but the secondary school was very far from our home and my disability made it difficult for me to get there. 

Sometimes my father would carry me to the school, but it was hard for him. He was tired, yet he was reluctant to tell me that he would not be able to continue taking me to school. He started hinting to me, and my sisters, that there was no difference between the school and the associations that trained girls in sewing, embroidery and other things. He kept on asking us, “Who would like to join the association next to our house?” None of us responded to him, and I did not realize that the question was directed at me alone. 

One morning, I woke up expecting to dress in my school clothes as usual. Instead, I was delighted to be given a new outfit, but I was surprised by the warm kisses of my father, who was crying. As were my sisters, who already knew that I would not be going to school with them anymore. I was amazed and looked at my mother to ask her what was happening. 

She took the school bag from my hand, and embraced me, saying, “You will join the association next to our house instead of school, and you will learn sewing and embroidery. You will have a great career that is better than your sisters.” I finally understood that the tears on my father’s cheeks meant that he had surrendered to a matter that he did not want to surrender to. 

After he returned from work, my father looked at me sadly and sat me next to him, saying: “You will go to school tomorrow, my daughter”, but I already knew that he would not be able to help me. Instead, I convinced him that I wanted to join the association, so he took me to the Habla Association for Sewing to learn sewing and embroidery the next day. 

I suffered a lot during my training, as I had to lean on one foot, but after I had learned the craft of sewing and embroidery, I wanted to help myself, and my community. The question was how? I asked many people for help to buy sewing machines to start a project with widows, but I couldn’t find anyone to help me open a tailoring shop. 

I realized that it was imperative to buy a sewing machine, but at first, I could not afford to buy a sophisticated one. Instead, I had to make do with what I had until I had saved enough money. Later, I taught one of my neighbors, who had seven children, how to sew and embroider. After she had mastered the skills, I offered her a job for a monthly salary. She was so happy to find someone to offer her work at a time when it was difficult for men to find jobs. 

"One day, a group of women came to my house to tell me that IsDB was offering financial prizes to people who had created a good project to serve their community."

I then bought two more sewing machines and taught more women, as well as girls with little or no hearing. After they learned how to sew and embroider, I started paying them a salary in return for their work. I continued to buy more sewing machines, and eventually I opened the Al Hana Tailoring Shop. We worked together until I had 50 sewing machines. I fully realized that this success was only achieved by the will of Allah to help these women and their children. 

Throughout this time, we saw Israeli soldiers bulldozing farmland, demolishing buildings and displacing many families from their homes. Then one day they attacked the Al Hana Tailoring Shop. They confiscated all the sewing machines and destroyed everything inside. I tried to stop them, but they pushed me aside and I fell to the ground. All the women grieved for the devastation of the project because it was our refuge from poverty. All of a sudden, we became unemployed. 

We began to ask if we could restore the project or whether there was an alternative solution. The women offered ideas for how we could solve the problem. They also gave me small amounts of money, and some told me to request assistance from philanthropists, but unfortunately, we did not find anyone to help us. We became desperate. 

One day, a group of women came to my house to tell me that IsDB was offering financial prizes to people who had created a good project to serve their community. They asked me to apply and a few months later, there was a loud knocking at my door. I opened it, and found my colleagues laughing excitedly and desperate to tell me something. 

I invited them all in and asked them what was going on. Everyone started talking at once, as if each of them wanted to tell me that I had won. I did not understand because they were all talking at the same time. Suddenly, I saw a speech-impaired woman with tears in her eyes. Despite this, her face was smiling, and I realized her tears were tears of joy. She was the best interpreter for me, and I knew immediately that I was one of IsDB’s prizewinners. 

"I returned to Palestine in an optimistic frame of mind and was greeted by all the women that worked for me."

I received IsDB’s invitation to come to Kuwait to receive my prize, together with other winning women from several Muslim countries around the world. I entered the hall where the prizes would be presented and sat down with a sense of amazement. A Bank official appeared and asked for calm. Silence prevailed, and I almost felt as though I was alone in the hall. 

After the recitation from the Quran had finished, someone called out my name to come to the stage to receive my prize. It was a moment that made me happy and when I heard the loud applause from all those present, I was in complete awe. I barely managed to reach the stage where I stood before all the ministers from the Bank’s member countries to receive my prize from the IsDB President. I felt that all my female colleagues were there with me in Kuwait, although they were at home, watching through their TV screens. 

I returned to Palestine in an optimistic frame of mind and was greeted by all the women that worked for me. After a while, I used the prize money from the Bank to buy new sewing machines, replacing those that had been destroyed. Thanks to IsDB and what it offers to Muslim nations, its bounty has reached many peoples in various parts of the world. The number of female employees working in the Al Hana Tailoring Shop has now reached 200, all led by a disabled woman named Fatima Al-Jadaa.