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Women carve story of Um Al Jimal into stone

By Dana Al Emam - Jun 01,2016 - Last updated at Jun 03,2016

Former minister Hala Lattouf inaugurates an exhibition of a pilot rock art collection at the Jordan Museum on Monday (Photo courtesy of UNESCO)

AMMAN — Nofah Masaeed has been literally and metaphorically carving into stone to prove to herself and to her community what she is capable of doing.

"It is very rewarding that as a housewife I can be productive outside the home and contribute to the family's income," she said, describing her experience as a participant in a rock art project that targeted women in Mafraq’s Um Al Jimal village, carried out by UNESCO and UN Women.

Masaeed was able to master an income-generating craft that required her to carry heavy pieces of volcanic stone and carve it with a chisel and a hammer.

"The craft taught me to be patient and assured me that I can overcome difficulties," she told The Jordan Times on Monday on the sidelines of the launch of the project's pilot collection at the Jordan Museum

She called on women to manage their time and to make the effort to learn a craft, adding that her daughter, niece and sister also got involved in the project.

Masaeed is one of 25 Jordanian and Syrian women from Um Al Jimal who participated in the project, which is part of the UNESCO-UN Women Joint Programme for empowering rural women in Mafraq Governorate, some 80km northeast of Amman.

The project, in which the embassy of the Netherlands in Amman is involved as a donor, seeks to get women from different cultures to work together in order to overcome economic hardships in one of the country's poverty pockets.

The collection includes objects of interior and exterior design and motifs of archaeological inspiration, for a product reminiscent of Jordan’s history and past, yet functional in daily life.

UNESCO Representative to Jordan Costanza Farina highlighted the project as a platform for women to express their creativity, noting that the project is part of UNESCO’s Unite for Heritage global movement.

She added that the project’s aim is to recognise Jordan’s exceptionally rich heritage and cultural diversity for the benefit of present and future generations, noting that "the story of Um Al Jimal is one worth telling".

UN Women Representative Giuseppe Belsito described the Um Al Jimal project as a "dream project" for UN agencies as it is a collaboration to improve the socioeconomic conditions of underprivileged local communities, in a manner that increases social cohesion.

The project, implemented in partnership with the Municipality of Um Al Jimal and the Ladies of Um Al Jimal District, utilised the basalt stone, which is available abundantly in Um Al Jimal, to prove that badia women are capable of carving the story of the place and the people into stone to support their families, according to Um Al Jimal Mayor Hassan Rahibh.

The mayor called for expanding the project to include more women and to further support artisans who have already participated.

The project is sustainable, and the items can be produced through a division of labour, with people working together as a team, said Nadia Dajani, UNESCO consultant and a jewellery designer, who supervised the project.

In a recent interview with The Jordan Times, she explained that the system starts with getting the women to make the time to come and  learn the hard work of carving  hard basalt stone. Later, the project introduces the meaning of a good finish, and why it matters.

The project embodied the significance of teamwork to create a brand, Dajani said, adding that organising the project, and marketing  and exhibiting the products meant working collaboratively and in different disciplines. 

In addition to stone carving, the project trained women in product design and development, quality control and basic business management skills.

The launch was held under the patronage of former minister Hala Lattouf, who was deputising for HRH Princess Sarvath. 

Dutch Ambassador Paul van den Ijssel, Ministry of Tourism Secretary General Issa Gammoh, members of Um Al Jimal’s local community, and a number of diplomats and artists also attended the launch.

For Masaeed, this income-generating craft she has mastered may develop into a bigger business in the future. 

"I hope I can develop my work to include machines that can make the physical work easier and faster," she said.

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