Younes is the kind of person you hope always to have nearby when things go wrong. And also when they go right! You just have to look at him to feel reassured: he’s tall, sturdy, vigorous and has a radiant smile on his face. He’s one of those people who starts doing things before chitchatting.
“The building where we are right now, is the As Samou’ Charity Society’s headquarters. I have been supervising it since 1975. And I would like to point out I have always been a volunteer! Here we provide a nice, quiet working environment for the women of As Samou’. A place where they can bring their younger children and where the older ones can go to school.”
The rooms and laboratories are full of life. On the rooftop – with an evocative view of the old cemetery and the surrounding hills of As Samou’ – there is the big workshop, the one used fortraditional carpet production. A successful place connecting the huge number of sheep you can find in this area and the traditional thousand-year-old wool production.
“About 150 women from As Samou’ can come here and make the carpets, using the same traditional technique handed down from one generation to another,” Younes says without interruption, showing us some products combining red and black with traditional motifs. “Instead of working at home alone, here they can meet up and work together. And we help them sell the carpets in local and wider markets. They are so good at this, they even won the first prize in a contest in Kuwait! And they displayed their work at the prestigious Rozana Festival in Birzeit. In this way, they are not stuck in their houses: they help each other and can help their families economically.”
This is something which, to Younes, is really needed. “As Samou’ and the surrounding villages have been practically on the border with Israel since 1948 and the area is rather isolated. The city of Hebron is about 20 kilometres away, but due to the military check-points and the settlements, it is not easy to get around. The main problem is water, resulting in constant cut-offs. Every working activity is affected by this, including agriculture in a land which is naturally very stony. The population depends on Israel for working: this is why making and selling carpets is a very important domestic form of support.”
These women – daughters, mothers, wives – need a place for their children. And here tireless Younes and the association have created a nursery school for the little ones and eight classrooms for the older ones. “There is lack of schools in As Samou’, students need to move. Here, with the support of the international civil society, we manage to ensure a good service, waiting for better times.”
And here it comes, the restored ahwash is ready to be a Cultural Centre available to the whole city. And Younes does not need to think too long to think of a collaboration to get going quickly.
“Between our Centre and the one restored for the community, there will be a stable and fruitful collaboration! We will provide the furnishings and the materials to set up a permanent exhibition accessible for every visitor to As Samou’. Both the ahwash and the carpets are two elements of our life, of our identity. They are complementary and in the Centre they will be side by side to tell the story of our traditions.”