Our physical lives might be biologically dependable on the elements around us, but our existence – in its true sense – lies with our ancestral lineage and cultural heritage. The memories that we pass forward, create the bedrock of what we are. Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sofia always had this clarity on cultural and lineal importance of a community and their work with SITTI Soap has also redefined that relationship to showcase heritage for a new age.
The story traces its roots to the Jerash Camp in Jordan. The Camp was set up as an “emergency” camp in 1968 for 11,500 Palestine refugees and displaced people who left the Gaza Strip as the result of the 1967 Arab- Israeli war. It is known locally as Gaza camp. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Jerash camp is the poorest among the ten Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, with 52.7 percent of Palestine refugees having an income below the national poverty line. Jerash camp also has the highest number of Palestine refugees who don’t have health insurance, with 88 percent of refugees not covered by any health insurance.
Noora Sharrab, who is herself a Palestinian, was born in Dubai and grew up in Canada. She completed her elementary education and a Masters in Political Science from Canada itself. During her masters’ thesis, she focused her research on “Identity Issues with Palestinians”, for which she did her primary research in the refugee camps of Jordan. She had worked for the United Nations and had also started an NGO named ‘Hopes for women in education’ that aimed at providing specific scholarships meant for refugee women. In the later years, she worked for the same NGO, providing the refugee women with internship opportunities. It is then that she met Jacqueline Sofia, the co-founder of SITTI Soap. Jacqueline is a former Fulbright scholar from the United States and founder of Dreamrise.co. She has also closely worked for Gaza refugee camp for a couple of years.
Now, Noora and Jacqueline witnessed the appalling economic and social conditions of the refugees – as defined by the aforementioned statistics – living in the camp. The adversity generated insurmountable empathy in their hearts for the refugees. By a faint stroke of luck, Noora Sharrab was approached by a group of women residing in the Jerash refugee camp who were trained in making handmade olive- oil soap. These women wanted Noora and Jacqueline to help them market and sell the handmade soaps they make. The women were persistent to make a difference and this laid an imprint Noora and Jacqueline. But, they knew that the true wealth didn’t lay in the number of units sold; Instead, the lay in the valuable stories of these women and how they were told to the world. With this thought, Noora and Jacqueline started their own skincare company called SITTI Soaps.
As it has been rightly said that, ‘Your branches can only reach high of your roots are deep’. One must never forget where one comes from to understand where one wants to be. The story behind the name of the company is based on the same thought. The name is inspired by the traditions of our grandparents. SITTI(si’- TEE), the word which means ‘my grandma’ in Arabic, tells the tale of every elder and how relevant their emphasis on natural elements and materials were. When asked what is so special about SITTI Soaps that makes them different from other handmade soaps in the market, the founders mentioned two aspects. First, they never compromise with the quality. The soap is made out of high-quality olive oil. Secondly, SITTI Soap is a women-focused social enterprise. It is bringing sustainability, integrity, and independence back to this community by empowering women through entrepreneurship.
With their work, SITTI has been to touch the lives of many women, who were earlier shackled within the barrier of a refugee camp. Take the story of Ikhram. Ikhram’s husband suffers from chronic illness and is unable to work. His inability to work, coupled with the high cost of treatment for his condition, buried Ikhram and her family of 13 in debt. But, even in this atmosphere of despair and confusion, Ikhram relied on our traditional skills and started working with SITTI Soap. Now, she has been able to finally start paying off the loans she took out to pay for her husband’s medical treatment. Now Ikhram and her family are debt-free. We can find another deep-rooted impact of SITTI soap in the story of Nisreen. A mother of seven children, and preparing for the eighth, Nisreen is the sole earner of the family as her husband is unable to work due to disability. Work with SITTI has given her and her family a renewed financial strength and psychological liberation.
The Sitti product line, which began with a signature square bar of handmade, cold-pressed olive oil soap, has since grown to a line of 10+ popular skincare and home good items, with the items being distributed across the Middle East and North America.
These are stories are part of a wide spectrum of the impact that SITTI Soaps has on the women that work with them. Their future prospects include expansion of the current products – handmade soap, handmade wooden soap tray, and handmade tote bags. They also aim to expand the area of the production within the refugee camp so that the women can have easy access to their families.
A refugee crisis can have a disastrous impact on millions of lives, regardless of the geographical triangulation of the crisis. We need to showcase our utmost empathy in understanding this crisis and the people crumbling under it. SITTI Soap is a great outlet for that. If you would like to know more about their story and their handmade products, you can get in touch with them by clicking on this link.