Women of the West Bank celebrated at Diss exhibition

A photographic exhibition celebrating the enterprising achievements of women in the West Bank is on display in Diss this week.

The exhibition, entitled The Remarkable Women of Palestine, aims to show how families are using their initiative to work their way out of poverty and create prosperous communities in an area often more identified with violence and division.

The images have been compiled by husband and wife team Charles and Elizabeth Handy, from Bressingham, who were requested by Oxfam to photograph and interview a number of small village co-operatives the charity had invested in through its Enterprise Development Programme.

The stories told in the exhibition include 38-year-old mother Ilham Ma'moun, who has eight children and is the elected Chair of the Co-operative Association of Deir Ibz'a for the Rural Development of Women.

Created in 1994, the co-operative focused on training first aid and baby care, but has now opened its own shop providing products made by members and fellow co-operative New Farm Company.

It has 30 members with another 40 contributing to a saving and loans organisation. The co-operative now provides 15pc of total household income and Ilham has become the first woman to be elected to the village council. Mr Handy, a business writer, said: 'We have a lot to learn from them. If you want to start a business in this country you think 'I need five people to help, I need to pay them so I'll go to the bank and get money'. But the bank says 'no you've got no assets, no business plan, you've not got a good track record and we have no money anyway'.

'But these women say to their friends 'let's form a co-operative. All we need is your time and eventually we will make money'. I think 'why do we not do that more ourselves?' They can teach us something which is really relevant at the moment.'

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The couple have provided photographic studies for other charities in the past, including Suffolk Family Carers.

'We like to promote different charities and things like family carers which people know nothing about because it's behind closed doors,' said Mrs Handy. 'We like to go into different worlds and learn.'

The exhibition is in The Old Stables at the Diss Corn Hall, until Saturday. Admission is free.

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