Blind carpenters bid to compete with Chinese-made products

At a small workshop in Jerusalem, a group of men put their hard work in making brooms.

At first glance, they seem like any other carpenters in the city, measuring, cutting, and fashioning blocks of wood.

But this workshop is unique. Most tools have been modified to be easily used by blind carpenters.

The Arab Blind Organization opened its workshop in 1932 in old Jerusalem’s Hebron Gate area, before moving to another location on Via Dolorosa street, further within the Old walled city, in 1952.

The carpenters hail from different parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Sameer Othman, a father of six said that, the project which gives vision-impaired Palestinians carpentry skills and jobs, makes him feel very productive.

“I feel proud as I live my life normally like any other man in the society. I have work and we get training also in this organization. It is good for us, we meet with each other here and we integrate in to society just like other people,” Othman said.

The workshop produces up to 35 different products including brooms and paint brushes using straw, horse hair, and coconut husk.

“We produce these brooms for the municipalities which they use to clean the streets. Also, we make brushes for painting and brushes for cleaning shoes. We produce many kinds of brushes,” said Taher Odeh, who lost his sight after being hit by a bullet during clashes with Israelis during the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, which began in 1987.

The deputy director of the Arab Blind Organization, Eid Bashiti, said he has urged local governments to buy products from the workshop so his carpenters can enjoy ongoing employment.

“We are suffering from a financial crisis; we are not able to afford the expenses for this organization due to the competition by the Chinese products. So we urge the local government organizations to tell the (local) municipalities to buy our products,” he said.

The director of the company said she hopes the well-crafted brooms can compete with cheaper Chinese-made products.

“The production of the blind workers is handmade products and all of it is made out of 100 percent natural material. Therefore the broom which is made by blind people costs 35 Nis ($9 USD) but the Chinese ones cost (between) 5 and 6 Nis ($1.50 USD),” she said.

The organization believes that carpentry skills are vital in helping the vision impaired integrate into society.