Kawthar, overcoming adversity and becoming a role model
"I now have a strong sense of self-worth; I'm not just sitting at home without a purpose". That's how Kawhar Omar, 25, described her accomplishment, the story of her success in the cultivation of hanging zucchini. Kawtar hails from the town of Aalara in the northern West Bank governate of Tulkarem. She completed her studies in 2015 in the field of environmental sciences and sustainable agriculture. She however remained unemployed after graduation, as she was unable to find a job like many young graduates in Palestine, and the situation continued for three years to no avail.
Small projects to reduce unemployment towards achieving food sovereignty
UAWC, through its programs and projects targeting Palestinian farmers, seeks to protect the land and support the steadfastness of Palestinian farmers with the aim of attaining food sovereignty as a principle that ensures the right of people to sovereignty over their resources and food. UAWC also believes that small development projects are key to reducing unemployment, empowering farmers by encouraging them to produce their own food, and helping them create their own businesses that become sources of income for them and their families, thereby promoting sovereignty over their resources. However, the concept of food sovereignty under Israeli occupation translates to control over the main natural resources of the Palestinians, such as water and land, making this goal difficult to attain., Yet for years, UAWC has been dedicating needed expertise, staff and programs towards achieving this goal.
In 2018, UAWC announced an opportunity to finance distinctive projects in agriculture or related fields, and Kawthar decided to apply for this opportunity, "I heard about the Union’s call for scholarships, I decided to come up with a unique idea. I live in a province known for agriculture, so I consulted farmers in my area about the crops they grow. The crops are cucumber, tomatoes, and bell pepper. As such, Kawthar decided to go for what is different from the conventionally grown crops and agricultural methods used in her region, and decided to plant zucchini in the winter season when it is a summer crop. She also decided to cultivate it differently than just planting it in soil. "I thought of something new, a new technique in agriculture, and off-season cultivation using plastic houses. This is what distinguished my idea that I presented to UAWC ".
Kawthar received the scholarship and immediately started the implementation of her hanging zucchini project. She was the first one to ever adopt this approach to agriculture that she extensively read about researched to safeguard the success of the project. As Kawthar says "the zucchini is planted in hanging containers, and thus protected from pests and disease as opposed to conventional agriculture. I learned about all aspects of this topic and did not encounter any problem. It is a controlled system, and I only use natural and organic pesticides, and the results were great.”
Overcoming adversity and becoming a role model
Kawthar faced difficulty in the beginning, being a woman who works in agriculture requires constant monitoring and presence on the land to ensure good production, "I broke boundaries by deciding to have a purpose and be of use in the society, of course with the support and encouragement of my family." Kawthar established a prototype in her hometown and source of assistance for farmers in her region, who would consult her in certain agricultural matters. Some farmers even started their own hanging zucchini garden, which delighted Kawthar. Kawtar says "this project has led to a quantum leap in my life, and there are many institutions that visit me to see my project."
Great ambition and continuous development
Kawthar’s ambition did not waver, as she remained persistent in achieving more of her goals and overcoming further challenges. For instance, she is continually working to develop her capabilities and expertise, as she embarked on another project to utilize the empty spaces in plastic house to grow strawberries during the off-season. When visiting her project, one immediately notices that the ground surrounding the plastic house is used and cultivated. “Everyone has land that can be cultivated and must adopt non-traditional methods to excel." Kawthar is also working on developing her project and using practices to differentiate her products. For example, she is using new packaging methods to attract customers, and aspires to ship her products to all the West Bank markets. It is worth mentioning that Kawthar didn't stop here either, as she is currently working on beekeeping and production of natural honey within her hometown, with hopes of future expansion to other markets. "Working on the land itself is a source of happiness and provides me with a sense of accomplishment."
The UAWC team continued to visit Kawthar during the implementation phase of the project, continuously followed up, and provided help when needed. Kawthar's production was excellent, her project was deemed successful as it resulted in a high source of income by adopting natural methods and continuously seeking improvement.