The words “Tea House” bring to mind the image of a subdued environment conducive to quiet discussions and friendly talk. The Rozana Tea House is very different. It is neither subdued nor quiet, but rather a bustling hub of activities – a center for vocational education, training, cultural preservation, income generation, and, ultimately, a place where visitors can sit and enjoy a quiet herbal drink while contemplating displays of mosaics and other artistic products and wondering at the replica of an ancient Byzantine mosaic floor under your feet.
The Tea House opened in a October 17, 2016, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the Pontifical Mission, Birzeit Municipality, Birzeit University, RWCT, and municipalities Bani Naim, Sabastia and others. Trainees shared their experiences in the mosaic and medical herb training and a local Birzeiti singer, Mr. Nassal Zanayed, provided entertainment.
Prior to the opening, Rozana and Ibrahim Iqtait, the founder of Birzeit’s Mosaic Workshop, spent two years developing and implementing an innovative vocational education program for girls and boys for whom traditional classrooms were not successful. Students, accompanied by local experts, engaged in field work followed by intensive training on ancient mosaic work, mosaic stones and production, and local medicinal herbs. Some will become professional crafts people in mosaic, producing art work of quality for sale in the Tea House. Others will become experts in local herbs and their medicinal uses, thus re-invigorating an ancient craft and putting it to healthy modern use.
Management skills were also part of the curriculum and the students are operating the Tea House as a multi-faceted town center – a place where local mosaic and artists in other mediums can display and sell their work, where young Palestinians from surrounding villages can interact and develop a sense of Palestinian pride in their cultural heritage, where local youth can share their knowledge of ancient and modern uses for local herbs and the biodiversity of their environment with local school children, and where visitors and tourists can simultaneously imbibe an herbal hot drink and an authentic, locally-produced, Palestinian cultural experience.
The Tea House project is being funded through a grant from the Pontifical Mission (www.pontificalmission-jerusalem.org), the papal agency for Middle East relief and development. The Mission has offices in Jerusalem and is thus familiar with the multiple reasons for creating such a center.
The Occupation and the “peace process” have not removed the numerous Checkpoints and other constraints placed on Palestinians. Rural villages are becoming isolated by the restrictions on mobility and residents are losing knowledge of or pride in their own culture and history. The economy has been shattered, unemployment is high (39% among Birzeit’s youth), local talent is leaving, and many Palestinians, especially the young, are feeling hopeless, separated from their cultural roots, and increasingly radicalized.
The Tea House will produce tangible results designed to help overcome the Occupation’s disastrous impact – the mosaics, the herbs and herbal drinks, the income generation, a rehabilitated building. But there will be intangible assets of equal importance. It will inspire young artists to create their own styles and contemporary messages, it will build self-respect in unemployed youth when they gain the skills necessary for a career, and it will nurture a sense of pride among young girls and boys, and their families, in re-discovering, preserving and passing on the cultural heritage of their homeland.