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Recognizing this need, a training course was set up for a group of 60 young women who had the desire and aptitude for handwork. Now they meet at the sewing center as often as they can. Sewing machines – provided by the Pontifical Mission – whirl and scissors are rarely at rest in the rehabilitated workshop. Rent for the workshop is covered by local contributors. For these women, pattern cutting often leads to pattern design; it won’t be long before some of these women can hang out a shingle that proudly reads “Seamstress.”

There is another women’s workshop in the nearby village of Keyfoun. Finished items are laid out, bazaar-style, on long tables. The women watch the faces of visitors and smile as they wait on their customers. The tables are laden with items bearing neat embroidery and fancifully painted fabric.

Some items require close scrutiny before their origins can be deduced. Smiles broaden as we discern that a bunch of pretty grapes is made from Pepsi-Cola bottle caps. Containers of all sorts have been transformed into decorative items. Rather than waste, create has become the motto of this workshop.

It is obvious that these women have had some education beyond the village school system.

A round of handshakes and questions introduces us to Sireen, 23, who studied tourism at the Islamic University of Lebanon and speaks excellent English. We also meet Manal, who has worked as a dental assistant. Rania studied geography at Lebanese University and Afifeh teaches crafts in the Lebanese school system.

Kati is married to a Lebanese man whom she met in her home country of Bulgaria. Like many women in the craft workshop, she has contributed much from her cultural background to the workshop.

Back in the village hall, the talk is all about upgrading municipal services. These days, banter around the computer includes terms such as UPS, fax, Excel and Word. Budgets, fees and taxes are being entered into the new village computer system. Civil servants are being trained, thanks to a special program conducted by the State University of New York.

Taxes will be allocated for municipal services that include garbage collection, law enforcement, street cleaning, a notary public and a dispensary.

The enthusiasm with which the members of the Pontifical Mission are met wherever they go reflects its philosophy of giving: The difference is between a handout and a hand up. Dignity and pride are the by-products of the second. And those are priceless.

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Marilyn Raschka is our Beirut correspondent.

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Tags: Lebanon Shiite