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From Unemployed Palestinian Psychology Graduate to owner of Asal Bakery

A university diploma, rising unemployment rates, and a brewing idea for an independent project: these are the ingredients Zainab Karmi, at only 23 years old, started with a few months ago to open up Asal (3asal) Bakery. After graduating with a psychology degree from Birzeit University in the spring of 2015, Karmi was unable to find employment. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), Karmi is not alone. As of 2015, unemployment affected over 300,000 Palestinians.

Karmi first discussed her idea of opening up a bakery with an experienced Palestinian individual who works at a bakery in an Israeli settlement. Over 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel, with 27,000 working in settlements, according to the ILO. In support of Karmi’s idea, he contacted three more workers, and now, thanks to him and Karmi’s bakery, the four laborers who used to work in an Israeli bakery can now work in a Palestinian one.

Despite these challenges and the fact that the Palestinian market is heavily regulated by vigorous Israeli laws and taxes, Karmi implemented her idea. Opening the bakery in Bedya, Salfit, a governorate in Palestine, not only solves Karmi’s employment status, but also introduces a local product to the Palestinian market. A market that is heavily regulated by Israeli regulations and hindered by checkpoints and high taxes.

Zainab Karmi tells BarakaBits more about her story in an interview. Here’s what she told us:

1- Many fresh graduates struggle with the idea of not finding a job with their degrees, and I don’t think many would come up with the idea of opening a bakery. When and how did the idea of opening a bakery start brewing?

“When I wasn’t able to find any jobs a few months after graduating, I met with a few individuals who were working in Israeli settlements. They were working in a bakery, making ka’ek (or 3agot, as is known in Hebrew). I started thinking: I always see people in our society buying this product. Why can’t we have a Palestinian product? At the same time, why can’t it be of high quality?”

2- Who came up with the name “Asal” for the bakery? Why “Asal” and not any other name?

“Asal usually refers to a delicious taste. It is such a light word on the tongue, and it is an Arabic name. I don’t think it is found in any other language. No other product is named Asal.”

3- What is your bakery offering that other bakeries are not?

“We make 11 kinds of ka’ek with sugar. They differ in taste, shape, and size. Our product is the first on the market of its kind that is a Palestinian one and not imported from Israel or elsewhere.”

4- What challenges, if any, have you faced during the establishment of Asal Bakery?

“There were challenges, of course. An idea in your mind is not the same as when you start implementing it with your hands. For example, we found out it costs more than we had estimated. Also, people mock you at first and tell you it won’t work. However, you have to carry on. You take on the challenges and keep going, keeping in mind that theory is different than practice.”

5- How successful is this project turning out to be for you?

“When I compare my achievements so far with my goals and what I want to see it turn into, it hasn’t quite gotten there. When I compare now with where I was four months ago, it feels incredible. As a four-month-old project, I am happy with they way it is coming along.”

6- From the beginning of the project till today, what has been your favorite part about it all?

“I love that this is an independent project, and it is new. Where colleagues were looking for jobs with their degrees, I found something to do and focus on.  I am happy to be contributing something to society.”

7- What is it about the field of psychology in Palestine that makes it difficult to find employment in that area? Did you happen to cross by any opportunities concerning psychology?

“When you work in psychology, you need to be in comfortable environment. There needs to be a bit of freedom with the work. I couldn’t find a job like this in Ramallah and the West Bank. People still look at psychology in traditional ways. I don’t work with my degree as of yet. I sometimes get the opportunity to work with children in their early learning stages. This gives me more experience with psychology.”

8- What message do you have for fresh graduates or anyone with an idea brewing in their minds and have yet to start?

“The moment after graduation is when you start. Starting is not easy. You will face challenges. You have to study the market, and then, you work on your idea. Do not postpone your project.  Don’t say, “I’ll start when I work and make money.” This does not work. Take the risk now, while you are young. Start after graduation. Work on it and take it seriously. Don’t wait. There is no such thing as perfect timing.”

Zainab Karmi’s family and friends are her main supporters, encouraging her to carry on with her project no matter what challenges may come her way. Karmi hopes this project to be a source of income for Palestinians. 

Karmi, who has opened up a job opportunity for herself and others and is introducing her local products to the Palestinian market, welcomes everyone to her bakery, even if it is just to take a bite and taste the “asal”!

She also welcomes anyone who wants to help out and/or has ideas to improve the project. Those who want to show support can check out the bakery’s Facebook page.

Smile 🙂 in support of Karmi’s Bakery!

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