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How OU Prof. Janette Habashi’s Bake Sale Idea Became An International Charity

A girl in the West Bank plays with a handmade calendar created by Child's Cup Full
Child's Cup Full
A girl in the West Bank plays with a handmade calendar created by Child's Cup Full

University of Oklahoma human relations professor Janette Habashi grew up was born in Jerusalem, but left to pursue graduate work in England and the United States. But her native West Bank has never been far from her heart.

She founded the charity Child’s Cup Full, which distributes handmade toys and crafts throughout low-income and refugee communities in the West Bank. It started the way fundraisers typically do – with bake sales, yoga classes, and music events. They eventually reached out to local businesses to ask for musical instruments.

“We know for sure that two groups since 2009 are still using them, and they're part of a band. And they're working and they've increased their instruments,” Habashi said.

She wanted to do more, so she learned from her mistakes and decided to start hiring refugee women to give them a job opportunity and capitalize on her skills with early childhood education.

“We're going to make educational toys and refugee women are going to do them,” Habashi said. “We're going to collect surplus and we're going to find a designer who's going to do the educational toys, and we're going to figure out how to sell them in west.”

It took eight months to develop a prototype, but she still struggled with a business plan. She solicited the services of OU’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth to take her idea and turn it into a successful business.

“They created the market strategies. They created everything, and most importantly they created a mindset for me to understand what I'm doing,” Habashi said.

In the next year, Habashi wants to hire 30 more refugee women and create a consortium to help even more women around the region, not just in the West Bank.

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SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Janette Habashi, welcome to World Views.

JANETTE HABASHI: Thank you for inviting me.

GRILLOT: I'd like to talk a little bit about your organization Child's Cup Full. A charitable organization which helps to fundraise to buy musical instruments for refugee children. This is such a great thing. Because obviously we've talked in the past on this show with musicians and others that we talk about music therapy and the importance of children playing musical instruments and particularly those that are troubled, and that are of special needs and that have difficult circumstances. So tell us a little bit about this organization and how and why you started it, and what it does.

HABASHI: So this is what is fascinating about this organization and the learning process of it. So in 2009 I organized a conference in the West Bank for early childhood education and we invited the usual group that attends the Reconceptualization of Early Childhood conference to bring it to the West Bank in Bethlehem. So I said to my students, if we're doing that conference in Bethlehem, because I was spearheading the whole process, let's fundraise something. Let's do something for the community. So part of it is we start selling cookies. I never knew how to sell cookies. OK, I don't know how to do cookies.

GRILLOT: Everybody needs to know how to do a bake sale. That's a necessity if you're going to raise money.

HABASHI: So I did sesame bars. I know how to do sesame bars. So we started fundraising. We did yoga classes and we did music. We did a lot of things, and my students said let's go and ask Best Buy - all of these companies around in Tulsa - to see if they would donate musical instruments. So what happened we started collecting music instruments. At the same time we had some funds to take with us to buy eastern musical instruments in the West Bank. The funny part of it, which is you'll be surprised at the learning process, we get these keyboards. Fabulous keyboards from Oklahoma to the West Banks. And we cannot use them because the tunes - there's certain keyboards. If you buy them western music, they don't have every tune or every key that you need for eastern [music]. So of course we're still using them, but we cannot play certain music them.

GRILLOT: Well that's very interesting considering I think there's this perception that music a universal language in that you would have the same, you would be able to use a piano from here or there, or there or here, easily. That's very interesting that you've had to overcome that.

HABASHI: Yeah, we have to buy new keyboards there. But we still used them. But we didn't have every...

GRILLOT: But with different music, yeah.

HABASHI: I was so surprised because I didn't know that. And my students went with me and we gave six sides, I believe, to different...we went and gave refugee schools, we gave to villages, we gave away to youth groups. And it was fun. And we know for sure that two groups since 2009 are still using them, and they're part of a band. And they're working and they've increased their instruments. So I'm happy with that progress. And I know the girls' school are still using that. But what happened from that point, which is more interesting, so we learned that we made mistakes - that we cannot go and tell people how to approach things, how to help them. So we said OK we're going to start fundraising for after school programs. And we were successful for three years. So I said we're going to hire the refugee mothers and we're going to give them a job opportunity. In a way, we're going to provide for the children. So what we did, I said, 'OK, what are my skills, Habashi?" OK, I know education. I know something with early childhood. I don't know how to do toys, but we're going to make educational toys and refugee women are going to do them, and we're going to collect surplus and we're going to find a designer who's going to do the educational toys, and we're going to figure out how to sell them in west.

GRILLOT: So basically, just so I'm clear, you're reverse-engineering a toy of some sort, but using recycleable materials, because when you say using surplus you're using leftover materials of all kinds to basically recycle it into toys. And you're training refugee moms to do this. That's fantastic.

HABASHI: We sell them. The first prototype, it took eight months because nobody knew what we had to do. Which is fine, because we had to test it, and we want to do it handmade. We wanted to carry it from one generation to another and tell our story. So what happened is, OK, after eight months, we knew how to do it. The point is I was struggling with the business plan behind it, which I had no clue about business also. So I knocked on, what? I knocked on CCEW. The Center for...

GRILLOT: The Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth here at OU. OK.

HABASHI: And I said OK, somebody at OU-Tulsa said to me, Janette, you have to talk with them. And I said yes, because I don't know how to price the toy. I don't know what to do. The business behind it, I had no clue. It wasn't like an idea, let me try.

GRILLOT: Yeah, well that's what they're great at. They help you take your idea and put it into business practice. Yeah.

HABASHI: So I knocked the first year, and they said, yes, you're on the list. The good thing about me is I'm persistent. So I went and knocked again. And then they said, OK, the first thing you have to do is you need to make sure you understand the business behind it, because you don't have it. And then we decide if you can understand the business, you will take on the project. So after the course, and after they took it, they brand it, they created the business plan. They created the market strategies. They created everything, and most importantly they created a mindset for me to understand what I'm doing. So we're doing toys. We're selling toys. We have preorders now. We are trying to catch up. And at the same time, we opened a new line. Now what we did. Initially, we were under a 501(c)3 of the Tulsa Council for Arts and Humanities. But now we have our own 501(c)3. We have the toys. We sell toys. And now we created a new line which is Ethic Fashion. Fashion for women. And we're doing great with that. It's fabulous. We want to hire more women.

GRILLOT: What an incredible collaborative effort here as you're trying to do something wonderful. You take your ideas, you bring these refugee women in. You're doing all of this on behalf of educational toys for children. But you're also bringing an opportunity to university students to help and involve themselves in this activity as well. Just an incredible collaboration. So just very quickly here at the end, what is your future goal? The goal is to expand. The goal is to hire more women to be able to provide more opportunity for women. Very quickly, what is your final goal here? Where are you headed? What do you think about the future?

HABASHI: It might not be realistic, but what I'm hoping is to hire, at least next year, 30 women. Refugees. And to create a consortium. My ultimate goal is to bring more refugee women, to hire more refugees around the region, not only in the West Bank. But we're trying to create the structure of the consortium. How it looks. Open the market to the women in the west. We have so much talent. We're working with a lot of Fair Trade organizations and markets in the U.S. And they don't work in the Middle East, so they're excited. The handwork, the craft is so different than usually you see in the other countries. So they're embracing it, but we need capacity building. We need to train them. We need to bring them to the market. There's a lot of work behind this. And CCEW now is building for us the framework for the consortium.

GRILLOT: Well, it's so interesting, Dr. Habashi, thank you so much for being here today and we all look forward to learning more about your organization.

HABASHI: Thank you for inviting me Suzette. Thank you.

Copyright © 2016 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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