Translated as “House of Dignity,” Bait al Karama is located in the Nablus Old Center, an area devastated by conflict. As a result of economic decline, women have had to step into the public sphere in unprecedented ways yet lack adequate spaces to earn, socialize and congregate.
Bait al Karama has two main goals. First, it supports women’s social and economic needs through a food-based social enterprise. Second, it hopes to draw international attention to the Old City as a place of art and culture via cultural and artistic initiatives and sustainable tourism. To achieve these goals, the center hosts lunches and culinary tours to explore the culinary traditions of the Old City. It also provides social and educational activities for the community.
In addition to generating income through tuition and fees for cooking classes, the center allows for a cross-cultural conversation through which the women can tell their stories, disseminate Nablusian cuisine, and promote peace and understanding.
The center has multifunctional rooms to host gatherings and workshops, but the focus is the cooking school and its attendant workshops and classes. The women of the Old City teach visitors how to make traditional favorites, and the center offers supplemental educational programs for the women themselves, including regular workshops on basic nutrition, as many of the women in the area are struggling with food disorders brought on by posttraumatic stress.
Recently, the project “Fatima’s Chronicles” – an oral narration of food, taste, and gestures – has begun as a further step to involve the local community in a process of awareness towards their own food heritage and to actively engage with its preservation. This “recipe book” will emerge from a multitude of voices from the community itself. The project consists of participatory research into the local food production, recipes, and food spaces in the Old City, involving the 50-70 women and youth who already participate in Bait al Karama’s activities.
We chose to honor Bait al Karama as sometimes peace needs to be designed. For many communities around the world who are dealing with conflict, statelessness, occupation and violence, design offers a meaningful and achievable step towards a more peaceful tomorrow. What we choose to design, and how we choose to design can act as a bulwark against the hopelessness and desperation created by war.