Supporting women’s advancement through local businesses
Camlah El Hawajra, assistant chef at Hura Community Kitchen
Camlah El Hawajra, a Bedouin woman from Israel’s Negev, was having a hard time. After having six children, she finished high school and went on to complete courses in computers, cooking, and running a home day care, as well as volunteering in the community’s well-baby clinics. But she was not able to find work.
Camlah's luck began to change four years ago when she became part of Israel’s first community kitchen, set up by the Arab Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation (AJEEC) and the Hura Local Council in partnership with the Hura Women’s Council and the Hura Community Center.
A community kitchen is a local, sustainable business that provides meals for school lunch programs, thus leveraging a government program to create jobs and benefit the local economy. It is an elegant solution to three social challenges: food security (and within this promotion of nutritious food); local economic development – especially in disadvantaged areas; and the creation of jobs open to all. SHATIL Community Organizer Shirley Karavani explains that community kitchens can have a positive effect on a community at many levels. “It enables public money to be used in a smarter way,” she says.
The Hura Community Kitchen provides 6,100 meals per day to qualifying elementary and kindergarten children and employs 16 women. The kitchen is connected with SHATIL’s local sustainable economic development project.
“Before I worked, I felt like a weak woman,” says Camlah, now 46 and a mother of eight and grandmother of three. “My husband is on disability and I could not provide properly for my kids. Since I started working in the kitchen, I feel like a strong woman. I can help my children. My daughter is studying math at Kaye College and I’m paying her fees. I am so happy that she is getting educated so she will not suffer in life as I did. It’s my wish that kitchens like ours be established all over the country so women can earn money for their children and thus keep them on the right path.”
SHATIL and AJEEC, together with the Hura Local Council, are working to make Camlah’s wish come true. Last Thursday Community Kitchens: From Idea to Recipe brought together 80 activists, government and local authority officials, and representatives of foundations to get a first-hand look at the Hura Community Kitchen. The seminar offered practical tools for establishing other kitchens based on this successful model and promoted policies using local resources to provide healthy food in school lunches and other public nutrition programs. Food for the day was provided by the Hura Community Kitchen.
Those involved in the community kitchen emphasize that the success of the model depends not only on individual initiatives, but on government policies. Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid, which is partnering on advocacy efforts with SHATIL and AJEEC, spoke at the conference on the drive to get laws passed that would give preference in government contracts to community enterprises like this one, especially those dealing with food.
The government-mandated school lunch program provides needy elementary school students with one hot meal a day. In 2011, 170,000 children received hot meals at a cost of NIS200 million. One of the recommendations of the Trachtenberg Committee following the social justice protests was to double the size of the program. As a result, this school year, 350,000 elementary school and kindergarten pupils are receiving these meals.