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The working environment mirrors the traditional Bedouin homestead. Fleece is spun and rugs are woven under the shelter of spacious tents. Spindles are used for spinning fleece from local Awassi sheep. Weaving is done on traditional ground looms that are amazingly assembled with only wool, a few stakes, a half dozen sticks and two old olive oil cans.

The Pontifical Mission provided dye tanks and funds for a weaving center. In cooperation with Misereor of Germany, a revolving capital fund was established to cover operating expenses during the early weaving cycles. Another goal is to operate the enterprise as an independent business.

“Sometimes you feel like you work in this vacuum,” Rosemary explained. “Who cares whether you succeed or not? That’s why all the support we receive from the Pontifical Mission has done much to lift spirits and keep us going. In addition to the financial help, it’s important that people come down to see us regularly and ask ‘How’s it going?’ and What can we do to help?’ Without their support we wouldn’t have succeeded.”

Production demands have not sacrificed quality. An average rug is completed in two weeks; a western visitor unfamiliar with Bedouin culture would be startled to see the amount of work to complete a rug.

Colors and patterns are tested to fit the American market. Still the prevailing colors – red, blue, green and black – are traditional. Styles vary. For example when guests are expected, a predominantly red rug, which is seen as the most decorative, is placed in the Bedouin home’s best room.

One cannot help but admire these women and their struggle to maintain tradition and yet move ahead in the face of challenging obstacles. Their perseverance has enabled the Negev Weaving Project to overcome these obstacles along the way.

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Karen Lagerquist is a frequent contributor to Catholic Near East. James Richard is the project administrator for the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem field office.

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Tags: Palestine Economic hardships Employment Bedouin Micro Credit Program