With the emergence of the Saint Catherine natural protectorate in1998, Fansina, a project that changed the lives of hundreds of Bedouin women, was created. Through it, the women use traditional Bedouin motifs to create a range of modern products like handbags, back bags, purses, make up and jewelry bags, curtains, cushions, pillow cases, necklaces, water bottle bags, bed covers and quilts.
The idea of the project came to Dr Iman El Bastawisy, a professor at the American University in Cairo and Cairo University, as she was conducting research in the area at the time. She had noticed the beautiful motifs the women embroidered in abayas (long gowns) and in the traditional sugar bag, so she suggested they start selling them.
With only five women and two products, Fansina was established with funding from the European Union. Throughout the past 10 years, the project developed into an independent certified business employing 365 women for embroidery and 12 for sewing, all working from their homes. The project generates income for 450 houses in total and is currently training 100 young women to be hired next year. Each woman uses her own authentic Bedouin motif, bringing a sense of tradition into every unique piece.
According to Selema Gabaly, a Bedouin woman who has been managing and running the business since 1999, Fansina aims at preserving the Bedouin heritage and using it to improve the Bedouin economy. It also allows women to work and generate an income without violating their conservative traditions by working from home.
Noha El Shoky, development consultant and marketing coordinator for all Fansina products, said Fansina has taken many steps in its quest to preserve the Bedouin cultural heritage. These include “documenting all Bedouin motifs in a catalogue, making a documentary of the life, people and handicrafts in Saint Catherine’s, collecting old artefacts and items from old houses. The project also organizes trainings by the older women of the community to teach the younger generations of the Bedouin age-old skills.
Fansina also plays a social role in the area. “Fansina is a one of a kind socially responsible enterprise, giving health education, computer training, and literacy classes to women and girls in the community, said El Shoky, After becoming a favorite among tourists in Saint Catherine, Dahab and Neweiba, Fansina’s products now have outlets in countries like England, Germany, Italy, and Canada.
“What we do is market an entire culture and region, not just the handicrafts, because for anyone to know the value of a piece of handicrafts, he or she needs to understand where it comes from, how hard it is to make and re-produce, and how each piece is unique, El Shoky explained.
Fansina’s products are available in many outlets in Cairo: The Hub Cairo in Heliopolis, Yadwee in Mohandiseen, Markaz in Maadi, Clara shops in Zamalek, Mohandiseen and Maadi, Handmade in Mohandiseen and Om El Dunia in Downtown.