Passion for graphic design pays off for Gaza-based youth
Mona Ferwana and 80+ trainees in digital sectors sharpen their skills to become online freelancers, targeting clients around the world
Learning to become a graphic designer has brought out the child in Mona Ferwana. It has also set her on a new career path – not an easy feat in the Gaza Strip – and shown her how to market herself as an online freelancer.
Ferwana is one of 83 trainees – including 49 women – who are halfway through an intensive four-month training course in front-end web development, graphic design and digital marketing organized by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in partnership with the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI).
The project, funded by the Government of Japan, teaches Palestinian youth and refugees to use digital channels to connect with clients, find jobs and enter new markets. It also helps build the capacity of BTI, an incubator based in the State of Palestine, to provide sustainable services for freelancers and youth with a focus on digital platforms.
A 2018 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that the State of Palestine has the highest unemployment rate in the world, and that women and youth are disproportionately impacted. Half the population under the age of 30 is unemployed. Women represent 19% of the workforce, compared to 71% of men, although Palestinian women are well educated by regional and international standards.
The course has two components: technical training and freelance training – that is, strengthening trainees’ skills and then giving them the means to make these skills profitable.
My reason for joining this project is my passion for learning a new discipline and a dream of earning a source of income,’ said Ferwana, 32, who has a master’s degree in economics and had been working as a researcher. ‘I have learned a lot during the past two months: the basics of design, the basics of creative thinking to find content design, how to market myself as a designer in this field.’
She clinched her first job with a client in the United States four weeks into the training, and has since racked up several more jobs.
Like many other trainees, Ferwana had little experience using graphic design programmes and no understanding of general design concepts.
Fellow trainee Mohammed El-Belbesi had basic knowledge about graphic design and had unsuccessfully tried to sell designs before he joined the course. The 26-year-old former perfume salesman with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture says the training has given him confidence that he will be able to earn a living marketing his services online.
‘I was passionate about the design field, as many of my friends were already working in the field,’ he said. ‘So I thought this course would fill my passion in learning something new.’
Knowledge, work and security
Two weeks into the training, El-Belbesi proactively found his first client by contacting a Saudi he noticed on Twitter. That Saudi, it turned out, needed a logo within 48 hours. Using the tips and tools he had learned during the training, El-Belbesi designed the logo and since then, he has created numerous designs for his client’s social media campaign.
‘Every day or the other I do a design for him; he pays me $10 per design,’ El-Belbesi said. ‘So far I have done over 30 designs for him.’
Although the payments are modest at this early stage, trainees are boosting their ability to find work on freelance platforms and to earn money, says Hazem Habib, who oversees the project. Securing jobs is ‘pretty hard due to the constraints imposed on the Gaza Strip, which badly affected the economy of the city and raised the unemployment of youth to about 60%. So the project focused on a field that is less affected by those constraints, which is working online, using freelance platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com’.
ITC project manager Eman Beseiso says the project focuses on freelancing because ‘investing in this sector is a way to boost the Gazan economy, considering the complicated political context and the de facto lack of Gazan control over the borders.’
She added: ‘By contributing to inclusive growth, the project can have a positive spillover effect in terms of fostering peace and stability.’
El-Belbesi and Ferwana are among half a dozen graphic design trainees who have already earned money through freelance platforms, and more are set to follow suit soon. Ferwana recently beat out other trainees in a character-drawing competition using Adobe Illustrator. It was the first time she’d ever used the programme, and it has driven her desire to improve her animation skills.
She credits the training course and her work on cartoon characters for helping her discover ‘the presence of the child inside me’.