Haifa’ Amer from the Jenin refugee camp transitioned from being a political prisoner in an Israeli jail to a community leader in Jenin refugee camp. She led community centers inside the camp and also built networks with CBOs and CSOs outside of its borders and says her ongoing participation in MIFTAH empowerment trainings has been the launching point for her self-realization and her capacities ad a community leader and activist.
Haifa’ describes her beginnings with MIFTAH as an important turning point in her life as a political and community activist. She says MIFTAH coordinator in Jenin Farha Abul Hayja’ encouraged her to participate in public meetings and trainings which MIFTAH has held in the Jenin area since 2006. “Ever since I participated in these activities, I have been highly motivated to be part of community work,” Amer says. She continues that she is also a member of “Lest we Should Forget” Society, established after the 2002 Israeli invasion of Jenin, and nominated herself for elections in its board of directors. “After I won, I became better at expressing myself, my goals and my reasons for being part of this organization.”
Impact both ways
Haifa’ says MIFTAH’s activities had a major impact on her personality. She said she became bolder and more able to speak out during meetings and while on the job in and outside the camp. Haifa’ continued that she broadened her horizons and was encouraged to participate in activities even outside of Palestine. “I represented Palestine through ‘Lest we Should forget”, in Paris and in Spain where I was the leader of a youth group.” She says she also partook in women’s groups even though her English was not up to par. “I was still determined to speak about my experience as a political prisoner and as a Palestinian refugee who lived and continues to live under harsh circumstances in Jenin camp. I wanted to say that in spite of all the bitterness and hardships, I am a Palestinian woman that will not allow circumstances to get in my way.”
Promoting leadership concepts
Haifa’ says MIFTAH’s training workshops focused on communication, advocacy and lobbying skills, in addition to leadership skills and the media. Other courses revolved around promoting women’s community and political participation and raising awareness on the concept of citizenship.
Haifa’ says the benefits were immeasurable. “No doubt, these meetings strengthened the concepts of leadership and community and political participation within me, which gave me more of an incentive to participate at both the social and political levels.” She continued that the meetings also helped her to better communicate with her own community and with the media to which she often posed pertinent issues. “I used to be this timid, quiet woman with no real ability to hold any kind of discussion,” she admits. “But MIFTAH has helped me become my own person, made me stronger and given me a desire to work and make a change.”
Because of the skills she acquired and the networks and relationships she established, Haifa’ says she is now encouraged to participate in popular committee elections in Jenin camp. Also, because she has so many connections in the district and throughout Palestine, Haifa’ says she now represents refugee women in meetings and conferences. She even prides herself on her ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that sometimes arise in her work. “When funding from UNDP ended on a production project in the camp, I searched high and low until I found ways to continue it,” she says. “This was an important project because it provided material and moral support for the women in the camp. I didn’t want to let it go to waste”
Skills and expertise
Haifa’ says all of the trainings enabled her to acquire skills and expertise that helped her identify the needs of women in the camp, most importantly their need for empowerment and job opportunities. Hence, she says she and members of the “Lest we Should Forget” board of directors got in contact with UNDP and pitched the idea of a production unit. She said they came up with ideas for toys and Arabic and English calendars. “There was a belief among the women who worked in the unit that nothing was impossible,” she says proudly, adding that through this unit, they were able to help themselves and their families. “After they got jobs, the women started to appreciate the concept of community participation; they realized that women have a right to make their own decisions and to protect themselves and their families, and that women are not just weak members of society who live within the crucible of customs and traditions.”
"I would also like to thank MIFTAH for helping me build such a strong leadership personality, which has enabled me to become a community leader”.