In the words of Rabab Sleiman: “Every woman whom I have trained is committed and keen to transform her life”

Date: Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Rabab Sleiman Photo: UN Women/Roula Rached
Rabab Sleiman Photo: UN Women/Roula Rached

Rabab Sleiman is a self-taught trainer from Lebanon, who is playing a pivotal role in reviving the traditional craft of palm leaf weaving and teaching the skill to young Lebanese and Syrian refugee women Rabab strongly believes that the training she has provided has had a positive impact on the 17 women beneficiaries from UN Women’s Japan-funded project “Strengthening Resilience and Protection of Women and Youth in Host Communities”.

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I teach women the traditional craft of palm leaf weaving. It’s a craft with great potential and has given me the financial means to provide for my family and raise three children. For almost a decade, palm leaf weaving was my only source of income.

Palm leaf weaving involves a detailed process: first, we harvest fresh fronds from the tree, then we dry the leaves, cut and wet them before making braids. Everything begins with a braid. For a small basket, you need a braid that’s one metre long. Bigger baskets need more braids.

It’s an old, but dying craft, rooted in the ancestral traditions of my hometown, Amchit, where the palm trees grow abundantly. Our ancestors produced many things from palm leaves, including fishing baskets and hats. Today, the younger generation seems less interested in the craft. I am a self-taught person; I observed my elders weave palm leaves, and that is how I learned the basics and gradually improved my own technique.

I lived in the United States of America for the last thirteen years. I returned to my country to train more women in this craft as a way of preserving the tradition, while improving their livelihood. When I heard about the UN Women project, I immediately joined as an instructor.

I just completed a one-month training session, conducted through Safadi Foundation, as part of the project, where I trained 17 women—both Lebanese women and Syrian refugees in Lebanon—in palm leaf weaving. At first, they looked at the thorny palm leaves skeptically. But they worked hard and learned quickly. Now, they are so attached to their handcrafted items that they hold them with care, as if they were their own babies! Some quick learners are prepared to become instructors themselves.

The women came from different backgrounds, education and income levels, and the project helped in promoting dialogue and social cohesion.

I believe that women are agents of change. Every woman whom I have trained in this UN Women project is committed and keen to transform her life.”