When asked who she is, Janette Habashi says “I’m Palestinian.” In her life, with perseverance and dedication to the work that she does, this statement rings loud and true.
Born and raised in Jerusalem, with a Bachelor’s in social work, it was only natural for her to go into the Palestinian communities and start her work from the grassroots, where the women are.
Janette is the founder and executive director of Child’s Cup Full, a non-profit initiative based in Zababdeh, a village located in the northern West Bank, focused on economic empowerment for women.
“You see so much injustice…not just social injustice but add political injustice to that, and you come across a combination that is just miserable,” she says.
Following her undergrad, she worked with children with special needs before receiving a scholarship to pursue her master’s degree from the British Council. “According to me, they owe us more than that,” she says humorously. “I worked as a professor for a while, then moved and worked with the bedouins for several years, before moving again to the USA to get my PhD.”
Following a trip back to Palestine with her students, she had the idea to start Darzah reflecting the ethos of Child’s Cup Full. Darzah is a non-profit, ethical fashion brand creating authentic, handmade Palestinian products. They employ and train women artisans in the West Bank to handmake products using Palestinian ‘tatreez’, a traditional embroidery style passed down through centuries of women.
“I’m very connected to the women, to the tribes. I know their families. I’m not going there as an outsider,” says Janette. “People know about us through the women, we have at least 1-2 women asking us for jobs every week. COVID was really hard.”
For Darzah, this was a way to fight back in a productive way by empowering women. “Zababde is in the north. It’s so challenging because we move shipments from Bethlehem. It’s six hours from top to bottom on a good day, and arranging these logistics is a nightmare, but we’re not here for convenience, we’re here to make a point.”
Darzah’s aim is to hire more women in order to increase production and types of products while also providing more jobs.
“When we get big orders, they ask us if we have enough people for the job, and I say bring it on! There are more people than I can employ. We have women with disabilities, young women who want to go to school and want to make some money to fund their education, and women who have families they need to support. We don’t have to put up an ad.”
Alongside Darzah, Janette also utilized her expertise in education and work in social justice to start Zeki Learning, a brand creating educational toys for children.
Her research over the past three years has focused on youth and indigenous populations, specifically the political socialization of youth and children. Her book titled “Political Socialization of Youth: A Palestinian Case Study,” is aimed at understanding the abilities of youth to “reason, reflect upon, articulate, and act upon their political views.”
“Prior to 1948, the British mandate created three premises to control the economy, the demography and another for limiting the provision of education,” she explains.
According to her research, there was a significant divide between urban education and rural education. Rural education involved just 13 percent of the population of children until the age of 6 who were simply limited to learning farming.
“They said it was a mistake to educate people,” she says with exasperation. “Attempting to control people’s knowledge of oppression through education is your inability to understand that children and youth live in more than one space. They do not only live in the classroom, so all they are really doing is limiting economic policies.”
“Everybody who came to Palestine wanted to control education because they thought they could then control the youth political engagement,” she explains. “In Palestine, you’re not allowed to learn about history, but everyone knows their history, knows the names of their village, where they came from, and why they came here, but you’re not taught this in a classroom because it’s anti-zionism.”
It is an inherent emotion that drives her, allowing her to balance these multiple avenues of work. “I call different continents every day. In 2020 we had 52 interns, I was losing my mind trying to manage it all,” she recalls.
“There are three things I’ve learned about myself in the process, I persevere because I’m passionate and persistent. I hate oppression. It kills me, and this is my way to fight back. It’s literally being pissed off.”
Through Darzah, she hopes that people buy the products to celebrate Palestine and start a conversation. “I don’t want people to buy our product because of charity, but because it’s comfortable, edgy, and beautiful. I don’t want them to buy it and leave it in the cupboard. I want it to make a statement, to be a talking point; for people to understand where we come from.”
Darzah is raising funds in order to expand its production by building more units, training, and hiring more women, donate to the cause here.