Maysoon Freihat is a Sulti woman and a community leader who manages a community-based organization (CBO). One of JVL’s partners, BookAgri, contacted before MEDA came along with the possibility of starting work in the agricultural tourism sector. After agreeing to a partnership, BookAgri provided awareness and training sessions to Maysoon and her fellow CBO members. Together, they then established a soap making agritourism activity as an interactive experience to be performed by Maysoon in front of tourists who were welcomed to an area under a large oak tree with seating made from local timber. BookAgri continuously provides Maysoon with mentoring and advice on how to use the available natural resources to set up this experiential activity. In addition to conducting this activity for tourists, Maysoon also sells her own products and even showcases and sells natural food products of the CBO members, who take 90% of the profits.
However, Maysoon kept thinking of growing her business and support to the CBOs women to another level. Her soap making area was small and not suitable to host tourists. Thus, after receiving support from MEDA, she moved from under the oak tree to her house garden. The JVL support allowed her to upgrade and purchase shades, utensils, packages, furniture and equipment, which enabled her to rehabilitate a guest bathroom and convert her garden into a more suitable sitting area where the soap making experience can be easily performed with a bigger number of groups. This has increased services and sales of soap with locally made natural products.
At the beginning of 2019, BookAgri supported Maysoon to further expand her business by planting aloe vera with the end goal of producing cosmetics. Maysoon used her husband’s land to plant seedlings provided by Fondazione Giovanni Paolo II, an Italian development NGO linked to by Bookagri to the Maysoon’s CBO. This NGO provided her and 16 other local women from the CBO with training on planting and processing aloe vera. These women, led by Maysoon, started producing different aloe vera cosmetics products which they sell to local and national markets for profit. These aloe products are also being sold through the soap making experience with BookAgri.
At the end of 2019, Maysoon participated in the “Treasures of the Valley” event and her soap drew praise by guests and staff. MEDA decided to order 400 pieces of the Bookagri branded soap as part of a gift package for an international convention. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Maysoon invested her time in making these 400 pieces of soap, and the profit from this order sustained her during the hard lockdown period and she was able to cover her daughter’s school fees.
Maysoon’s self-esteem and confidence has shown a remarkable improvement because of the success of her business, and her family has proven to be very supportive. “My husband has been incredibly encouraging and has helped promote my business on various media channels,” Maysoon says, “Before, I was not able to speak publicly. Now I am more socially active.” While community support was sparse at first, it improved once others realized the positive effects that organizations like MEDA and their partners such as BookAgri have had on the local community. She had never had her own personal income, but now has a monthly income of 300-400 JOD (CAD $558-744). Maysoon feels proud to empower, inspire, and help other women to become more independent and self-sufficient. As of the writing of this story, Maysoon has helped establish businesses for the 16 women who are part of her CBO. The women have benefitted from the making and selling of aloe vera cosmetics and Maysoon works hard to promote all their products at all events she attends.