MORE ABOUT FRIENDSHIP

At Ma'an, members spend one month at a time working in one of four different work stations creating felt decorations and household items. Each station crafts a different item. They purchase local sheep's wool which is washed and prepared. An assistant delicately fits the wool into a mold. The core members then use soap and water and press the wool in the molds, like in the picture to the left, transforming the wool into felt. It is then put out to dry on their balcony (photo below) before being dyed or decorated. The organisation is well-known for their felt interpretations of the nativity scene, but they have also branched out to countless other items, from ornaments to potholders to Easter chicks. The work day is interrupted first for breakfast, followed by announcements and a dance party (and apparently, "You haven't seen a dance party until you've seen a Ma'an dance party," or so Anna tells me). The next break is an afternoon lunch shared together before members work again until five, with a mid-afternoon snack break. All tasks, from the work itself to preparing meals, are shared equally between the members and the assistants. I spoke with Rania, the program's administrative assistant, who told me, "Everything is unique here. Our core members were used to being pitied and not having any expectations placed on them. Here, they are respected and valued. They are human and must be treated like any other human. This includes high expectations about their behaviour and work." The need for such a community in Palestine is strong, where there is still a lot of stigma around disabilities. Families feel shame and keep their children at home. There are few resources for education and empowerment. The programs that do exist are only for children, leaving those who age out of such programs without structure or purpose. The staff at Ma'an hope that the community provides both to their members, as well as a means for empowerment. Members earn a stipend each week, dependent on the hours they work. They are treated as equals to the staff, with the same expectations placed on them. Rania told me, "Their stipend teaches them that their work is valuable and gives them the opportunity to choose how to spend it. It is empowering for them to not have to ask their parents for everything." She tells me stories of core members'  transformation. For example, Rami, who sat next to me during the morning gathering smiling and showing off his notebook, was completely withdrawn when he first started coming. He refused to participate in any gatherings or work, even refusing to use the bathroom at the centre. He just stood by the door waiting for his father to pick him up. Now, a year later, he has blossomed. Rami is joining in everything, staying full days at the centre, and obviously enjoying himself. I ask Rania and Anna, left, what they hope Ma'an provides for its members, and this is when Anna tells me: "Belonging. Friendship. We all want friendship. This is one of life's most basic needs, and people find it here. They might not find it anywhere else, as so often they are not even taken out of the house. When you come, you can see we are all friends here. People also need to feel productive, to feel they are creating something beautiful and worthwhile. Here we all contribute to work that makes beautiful things, things we can be proud of." You can purchase these beautiful products to enjoy yourself or to sell in your congregation or community. The money goes back to Ma'an lil Hayat, to purchase wool, pay stipends, and keep the program going, giving their members joy and community every day. To order, email Rania at arche.bethlehem@gmail.com. You can find a catalogue on their Facebook page under "Files" here.