Loans for women strikes a UK chord

By Jessica Elgot, June 2, 2011

A charity which helps both Orthodox Jewish women and Arab women in Israel set up their own businesses is appealing for UK support.

Jafar Sabbah, director of the Jerusalem Interest-Free Microfinance Fund, said: "The charity has already increased the income of women from East and West Jerusalem from just £120 a month to almost £1,000.

"Women trained by the company have set up small businesses such as jewellery shops, wedding dressmakers, hairdressing salons and nurseries, and pay back the interest-free loans in monthly instalments."

Since 2008 the charity has run training for more than 80 women and given more than 30 loans of around £3,000. The poverty rate in Jerusalem is about 40 per cent, blamed on the low labour rate, with just 10 per cent of Arab women in employment and 45 per cent of Charedi women.

The charity was founded by senior UK government economic adviser Dr Donald Franklin and Faith Matters director Fiyaz Mughal.

But Mr Sabbah said that poverty relief was only one of the charity's aims and integration was also important.

"We run workshops with both Jewish and Arab women. Many of the women say 'I never spoke to a Charedi woman before'. But they want to learn from each other's work. This is a way towards harmony."

A first official fundraising concert in the UK, "Harmony in Jerusalem with Brahms," will take place at Lauderdale House in Highgate on Sunday June 12, and will be the debut concert of the Franklin Ensemble, comprised of British conservatoire graduates.

Last updated: 12:14pm, June 2 2011