Usually a parent buys a doll for their child to play with and dress up. It isn't often that a doll can provide a living wage for refugee women and a teaching moment about Middle East history. But through a historic partnership, the United Church of Christ's Wider Church Ministries is helping sell dolls this winter to raise awareness of Palestinian refugees while recognizing their culture, heritage, history, faith and dignity.
The Fabric of Our Lives Project is a collaboration between Global Ministries, which is a shared ministry of Wider Church Ministries and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the YWCA of Palestine. The project was created to raise awareness of refugee rights and, through the sale of the dolls, support the livelihood of refugee women and their families.
The YWCA of Palestine sent 100 of the handmade dolls to the UCC national offices in Cleveland to sell online. The dolls cost $45 each (plus shipping) on the UCC Resources website, with proceeds going directly to the YWCA to provide training for women, skills to help earn reasonable living wages.
"We've been a partner of the YWCA of Palestine for a long time, and we continue to support their work in vocational training and advocacy through One Great Hour of Sharing," said Peter Makari, Global Ministries executive for the Middle East and Europe.
"The project came about through the interest of the YWCA in teaching about ongoing Palestinian refugees, and to support their advocacy and help women earn a living," Makari said. "All those things line up with our priorities and interests."
The Fabric of Our Lives Project seeks to educate people on the period in Palestinian history known as al-Nakba ("the catastrophe"), when the state of Israel was established in 1948 and more than 750,000 Palestinians became displaced refugees and fled to the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Today, there are more than 5 million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the world.
"In the end, this is an educational opportunity when someone buys a doll, with people learning about the reality of Palestinian refugees and their stories," Makari said. "Hopefully, that encourages them to get involved more with advocacy.
"That's the hope that the YWCA has: to support these women, to educate the global community, and help in areas of advocacy of refugee rights."
The YWCA of Palestine was one of the first organizations to provide services for Palestinians refugees, even before refugee camps were established in 1948 and 1949. The executive director of the YWCA, Mira Rizeq, is a member of the Global Ministries board of directors. She presented a workshop about Palestinian refugees during General Synod 2013.
The Rev. Loren McGrail, a Global Ministries missionary who works with the YWCA, helped coordinate the project.
Each of the dolls is hand-carved from solid olive wood – selected because it is a symbol of peace and a reminder that Palestinians are rooted in that region – and dressed in hand-embroidered dresses that reflect the clothing from a particular village.
The five different dolls represent the stories of people from one of five Palestinian towns from which refugees came:
- Mariam from Beit Nabala
- Zahieh from Al-Masmiyya Al Kabira
- Heigar from Al-Dawayima
- Fatima from Dayr Al-Dubban
- Zuhdiyah from Dayr Yasin
Once all of the dolls are sold, Makari said it is possible Global Ministries could ask the YWCA for more. To order a doll and support the YWCA of Palestine and refugee women, visit the UCC Resources website.