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Handmade Palestine: A Q&A With It’s Founder Morgan Totah

Handmade Palestine is all about sharing the incredible talent of Palestinian artisans with the world, while also giving these skilled craftspeople the support they need, both creatively and financially. Located in Ramallah, it’s a heartwarming initiative driven by volunteers who are passionate about nurturing Palestine’s rich artisanal tradition. They’re proudly supporting the International Day of Tatreez and Palestinian Culture, a special day that honors the artistry and cultural heritage deeply embedded in Palestinian life.

We sat down with the force behind Handmade Palestine, Morgan Totah, an American who’s made Palestine her home.

Zenith: Can you tell me about the origins of this project and what drove you to start it?

Morgan: Absolutely. In 2014, my husband and I decided to invest our life savings in land on the outskirts of Ramallah. My husband, being from one of the founding families of Ramallah, felt a deep connection to the land and had a strong desire to establish an arboretum there. He often lamented the fact that he hadn’t inherited land like many other Palestinian families. So, after running a successful restaurant for 12 years, we pooled our resources and purchased 10 dunams of land. Our aim wasn’t just to own land but to create a nature conservation space where we could conduct educational activities and preserve Palestinian heritage related to wildlife, nature, and agriculture.

What challenges did you face in funding this project?

Securing funding was a significant challenge. Despite registering as a non-profit, we found that most funding in our region was directed towards humanitarian and emergency aid rather than environmental initiatives. This led us to explore alternative ways of generating income to sustain our project without relying on external aid.

How did you attempt to generate income for the project?

Initially, we tried selling crafts and setting up displays at our restaurant, but the costs outweighed the profits. We also attempted to sell products online through a website, but shipping costs ate into our revenue. Despite these setbacks, we remained committed to our goal and reinvested any profits back into the project.

Morgan shares a story which shock me to my core

After October 7th, the following Friday, my son went to the mountain with his father, which we do every Friday. And I had just seen those videos of these soldiers,of the settlers being armed. And I told him to go change and put on green. And he wanted to take his three-year-old sister who was wearing pink.
And I was like, you can’t and he couldn’t like understand that.
And I didn’t know how to say that to him.
I said listen to me. You have to be able to run and hide. And if you hide, you have to not be seen because you’re wearing bright colors. And your sister will slow you down.
So you go alone.
And if anyone comes and you see a gun, anybody looks like they’re military, anybody has a hat on their head,you run and you hide and you don’t even come out no matter what you hear, no matter what you hear from Baba, you don’t come until I get you.
And you know that mountain better than anybody. So I know you can hide.
You cannot be found.
Do you understand me? Even if Baba calls you.
And that for me was this breaking moment where after he walked out the door, I just like melted down,
just hysterical sobbing.

Can you tell me about the evolution of your project from a small display to a full-fledged e-commerce operation?

What started as a small display in our restaurant gradually evolved into an online platform thanks to the efforts of volunteers, including my sister, friend, and eventually my mother. However, as demand grew, we outgrew makeshift storage spaces, prompting my brother, who had experience managing an e-commerce warehouse, to step in and volunteer his services. He played a crucial role in scaling up our operations, especially during times of increased global solidarity, working tirelessly to meet demand.

What’s your vision for the future of your project?

Our vision is to continue expanding our conservation efforts, promoting Palestinian heritage, and fostering environmental education. We hope to inspire others to take action in preserving nature and cultural heritage for future generations.

Her dedication to promoting Palestinian art and empowering local female artisans is truly inspiring. Living alongside her Palestinian husband and children, Morgan is always eager to shine a spotlight on the best of Palestine for the world to see.