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Ratiba Abdula grows thyme to supplement the family income. A $70 loan helped her start this home-based business. Melissa Engle

Ratiba Abdula grows thyme to supplement the family income. A $70 loan helped her start this home-based business. Melissa Engle

Small loans create new opportunities in Jordan

Gladys Terichow
March 3, 2009

WADI RAYAN, Jordan – Every day Ratiba Abdula goes out to the garden to pick thyme. She has divided her garden into eight sections to ensure a continuous and year-round crop.

She dries the leaves of this aromatic perennial herb in the sun and sells the dried thyme in the local market. This provides her with a monthly income of $35 – a new source of income made possible through a $70 loan provided by the Wadi Rayan Women's Benevolent Society through a fund now supported by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

"Life has been bitter and sweet – mostly bitter," said Abdula who has been a widow for 12 years. "Now that I have my garden of thyme life is much sweeter."

Abdula was a 1-year-old child in 1948 when her family was forced to leave its ancestral village near the seaport city of Haifa in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war.

Her family fled to the West Bank which was under Jordanian rule at that time and in 1959 resettled in the Jordan Valley through a United Nations resettlement program. About 75 percent of the people in this community of 15,000 in the northern part of the Jordan Valley are Palestinians driven from their homes near Haifa in 1948.

Abdula's children, eight of her own and six from her husband's previous marriage, are now ages 25 to 36. They help support her, but she was looking for ways to supplement the family income when she heard that the benevolent society was starting a revolving loan fund.

Abdula knew there was a demand for dried thyme because she had occasionally sold small quantities in the local market. Dried thyme is widely used in a popular condiment called zaatar.

Her $70 loan made it possible for her to buy 3,000 seedlings and to hire someone to help her prepare the ground and plant the seedlings.

The revolving loan fund was established in October 2006 through a gift of $1,100 from a businessman in Amman, Jordan, who wanted to reach out and help others, explained Meisar Khateeb, chair of the benevolent society's seven-member board.

Abdula and 14 other women were the first loan recipients. They repaid their loans in $10 monthly installments and funds became available for 10 more women to take out small loans.

The revolving loan fund made it possible for Khawaleh Ebdah, a widow with 10 children, to complete an irrigation system so that she can plant summer crops on a small plot of land that her children inherited from her husband's family.

The fund helped Nejmah Ebdah increase the merchandise sold in her small grocery store and reinvest the profit from the additional sales in the store to expand her business.

Zarifa Khateeb has seven children and 10 grandchildren. Her husband died in 2003. With assistance from her son Muaath and his wife Zarifa she is continuing the family business of making butter, cheese and yogurt. She used her loan to buy new equipment for boiling milk and new plastic containers.

The success of this revolving loan fund and the demand for larger loans prompted the benevolent society to invite MCC to support this project. MCC responded by providing a one-time financial grant of $24,500 in 2008.

Twelve loans were approved in 2008 for projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, beehives, communications equipment, sewing machines, products for grocery stores and student loans. Most loans are under $1,500 and recipients pay a service fee of 2 to 3 percent. The maximum repayment period is 20 months.

The benevolent society was formed in 1983 and works in partnership with the community, nongovernment organizations and businesses to provide services for women.

The benevolent society also runs a kindergarten and received a financial grant from MCC to improve kindergarten and office facilities.