8 March 2010
To mark International Women’s Day, 27-year-old Rana Saleh explains how she overcame a difficulty upbringing to become the sole provider for her family – and an acclaimed seamstress.
Rana, from Beddawi camp, left school at 15, after her mother, who suffers from schizophrenia, had her youngest sister. Rana says: “I had to take care of my newborn sister because of my mother’s ailment and my father’s blindness.
“I started learning sewing at an early age because of my family’s difficult economic situation.” Rana’s family – her parents, four sisters and one brother – were classed by UNRWA as special hardship cases.
Sewing and fashion
"I found myself looking for a career to be able to provide for them,” she says. “In 2000, I signed up to a year-long course in sewing and fashion design at UNRWA’s Multi-Purpose Community Development Centre in Beddawi camp. Once I could earn, I could help my family.”
She discovered a love for sewing and studying: "My ambition had no limits. I loved learning about everything – I even studied curtain design. It was fun to learn how to make suitable dresses for women and clothes in general."
As the sole provider for her family, Rana has helped support her sisters’ education. “I liked having a role in improving my family's condition and not to live on the support of others."
"The centre gives me a lot of support, not only in securing work there, but also moral and emotional support. Having left school early, I dreamed of completing my education."
Her sewing work also allows Rana to pay back the UNRWA loans that have been an important lifeline for the Saleh family. She has already repaid two loans for her brother's treatment after he was hurt in an accident, and for home improvement.
In appreciation of the opportunities she had, Rana’s desire to give back goes beyond her family. As a trainer in the centre, she is helping new girls find a way to get on their feet. "I feel proud because [as I train] new girls in sewing, I always remember the trainers who taught me,” she says.
Rana’s fame as an excellent seamstress has spread throughout the camp. She is an example to the girls and women following in her footsteps. A strong advocate for women's access to the workforce, Rana encourages girls in her community to work even after marriage. As she explains: "Work is important for our life."
Summing up her experiences, Rana concludes with a Chinese proverb: "Teach me to fish rather than give me fish."
Text by Maysoun Mustafa, Beddawi camp information officer