Free to Be Themselves

Do you remember your first group of true friends? The feeling of being able to be your authentic self—and be fully accepted? The relief that came from a safe place to share and exist without judgment?

For many women in the Bedouin camps around Jericho, that’s something they’ve never experienced. Bedouins are a tribe that live outside of the city in simple, tent-like housing. They tend sheep and hold to a very traditional way of life. Unlike parts of the Middle East that are more modern, Bedouin women often don’t go to school and are expected to stay home and focus on their families. They have very few opportunities to gather with other women or invest in themselves.

That’s why at the end of last year, thanks to a generous donation from our partners at Grace Church in Kansas City, we piloted our first SHINE groups for women. We designed the groups to give women in the community a space to learn, grow, and build relationships. Our first two groups mainly included women from the Bedouin camps, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The program had a big impact because it’s a safe place where they can talk freely and be themselves,” said Cecilia Heredias, the Seeds of Hope volunteer who helped launch the program and now leads the groups. “They can share their problems, fears, and dreams without anyone judging them.”

These small groups of women meet together for seven weeks and talk about big ideas like personal identity, purpose, and potential. They discuss questions like “What is my purpose?” and “Who was I created to be?” These are questions that they’ve never had the opportunity to explore.

“We encourage each other,” said Cecilia. “One woman has a dream to finish school. She has nine children and grandchildren, so it’s difficult for her. But she shared that it was her dream, so the other women in the group encourage her and give her advice. They tell her she can do it.

Fadwa Kharabsheh works in the Cultural Center at Seeds of Hope and helps lead the SHINE groups. “They tell us how different they feel when they come here,” Fadwa said about the women in the program. “When we see them happy and confident and feeling good about themselves, we know that we’re doing something good for the community.”

We’ve seen the program help women grow in their confidence and belief in themselves. And it doesn’t end with them. Women are responsible for most of the education and development of children in Middle Eastern culture, so the impact goes far beyond just one group.

Not only are they recommending SHINE to other women in their lives, but they can now raise their children to understand their worth and feel confident in who they are—regardless of what society tells them. It’s just one more way we’re hoping to impact the next generation in Jericho and beyond.

“If we want to see a change in this society, we need to invest in women. We need to empower them.”
–Cecilia Heredias, Seeds of Hope Volunteer

After the success of the first two groups, we’re hoping to launch more groups this fall to welcome even more women from other parts of Jericho and continue to expand the program. Thanks to the support and generosity of partners like you, we’re excited to explore even more ways to support every member of our community!