Stepping into the Afanen workshop, you find yourself in a space that has been completely renovated with recycled materials. Not only are the tables and shelves made up of recycled materials, but the chairs in the room have been ingeniously converted from repurposed metal drums. The bookshelves, desk furniture, and decorative accents are all hand-made and consist of one hundred percent recycled wooden pallets.
The world of Afanen is the brainchild of Azad Shams, and is one of many programs he started under the title of “Home of Life.” However, the origin story of Afanen (derived from the word art) is a remarkable one and emerged as a result of Azad’s efforts with his humanitarian initiative Qawarib (which mean boat in Arabic).
Before delving into the emergence and good works of Qawarib and Afanen, it is important to point the spotlight on Azad Shams, the founder of “Home of Life” and all of its accompanying programs. Azad had his humble beginnings growing up in the city of Ramallah, in a large family of nine including two brothers and four sisters. Despite this, Azad recalls how his background really shaped his approach to the world and how he was instilled with the importance of an education from his parents but more profoundly the essence of human empathy and compassion. While Azad graduated from Birzeit university with a degree in Marketing and Business Administration, his experiences as a struggling student with the bare minimum was the turning point in his life, he recalls, “I was a student at Birzeit University, but I didn’t have much. I didn’t even have a bed to sleep on, so one day I noticed some unused planks nearby and decided to use them to make one. I realized that if I wanted to make any type of change, I would have to go for it.”
Developing a sense of empathy for others and understanding the urgency in which people in need have to constantly live with, was the spark which inspired Azad to translate his lifelong experiences as well as his need to act into the social initiative Qawarib.
Qawarib was started in 2013, as an initiative to positively affect marginalized communities throughout Palestine in dire need of the basic necessitates of life. Along with a group of dedicated volunteers hailing from across Palestine, Qawarib organizes various campaigns throughout the year to deliver, food, clothes, blankets as well as medical relief. After the 2014 Gaza war, Azad doubled his efforts and the collective resources of Qawarib’s dedicated volunteers and pulled through to deliver hundreds of much needed supplies to desperate Gazans suffering from the onslaught inflicted against them.
After sending out the supplies to Gaza, Azad was left over with hundreds of shipping pallets. Instead of throwing them out, Azad realized the potential of using all the extra pallets to make something new. Teaching himself how to convert wooden pallets to create and sell household furniture as well as decorative accents, Afanen, was thus created.
Founded in 2014, Afanen, “Made with love in Palestine,” is a social business which specializes in creating indoor and outdoor furniture as well as art pieces using recycled wooden pallets. Afanen is all about recycling useful materials that would otherwise be destroyed and creating something that can not only be used and appreciated, but that raises awareness about environmental sustainability especially recycling. The significance of Afanen’s tagline emerges from Azad’s efforts to put his heart and soul into all of his work, including his relief efforts with Qawarib, and recycling efforts via Afanen, “When I say ‘made with love in Palestine,’ I mean that everything we make at Afanen comes from a place of love, you have to love what you do and love what you share to the world in order for it to have meaning.” All pieces are one hundred percent handmade, created by Azad with assistance from his brother, and close friend.
Azad explains what Afanen means to him, “With Afanen, we are able to fuel Qawarib’s relief efforts on our own and at the same time promote a culture of self-sufficiency especially by encouraging our youth to pay attention and work to make a change, instead of waiting on it to happen.” He continues, “We are creating something to not only give back to our communities but to strengthen them, to raise awareness about the importance of recycling, and just to make something good out of nothing.”
However, Azad relates that some of the main issues he faced during the inception of Afanen was the lack of awareness regarding recycled furniture, and most significantly the lack of value attached to handcrafted Palestinian made goods. He explains, “In our current society people are not really aware about the benefits of recycling and how just by simply repurposing a simple piece of wood we can create so many different things.” He adds, “To make matters worse people do not value handcrafted products, they don’t understand how supporting Palestinian made goods can help so many Palestinians and create a culture in which we can depend on ourselves.” However, Azad remains motivated and continues to work to make Afanen a household name.
In his efforts to raise awareness and reach out to communities all over the world, Azad, with the support of Ramallah Municipality was able to travel to Amsterdam, Paris and Italy to not only speak about the importance of recycling, but to share his experiences bringing the culture of recycling and self-sustainable enterprise to communities throughout Palestine. Internationally conducted workshops, focused on teaching a multicultural group of participants to create art out of recycled planks. Azad also organizes specialized workshops in Palestine geared towards either children or adults, to spread the word about how recycling can change the environmental outlook for Palestine.
Azad explains that while organized workshops emphasize the concepts of recycling and making use out of what is essentially considered waste, the greater impact has been in bringing people together and creating a community that has joined together to create meaningful change.
While Afanen mainly relies on social media to market their pallet made furniture, there is a dedicated Afanen website where interested customers can immediately purchase any piece available and have it delivered to their doorstep. Due to Afanen’s novelty and fresh take on using recycled Pallets, Azad’s work has gained considerable traction in local communities with local customers reaching out to him to express their enthusiasm for his work. As a result, Azad is proud to share how he had the incredible opportunity to fully furnish and decorate multiple cafes in different Palestinian cities.
Azad’s plans for the new year, 2019, include opening a dedicated arts and handcrafts shop to showcase not only original Afanen creations, but to provide a platform for local artisans to sell their own unique creations and make a name for themselves.
On a final note, Azad’s efforts via Qawarib and Afanen have been tremendous. Through the social business, Afanen, Azad is able to keep Qawarib alive, sustainably delivering support and relief to communities and families in need throughout Palestine. Azad is constantly working on supporting local Palestinian communities, and artisans while at the same time raising awareness about the most pressing issues affecting Palestinian communities today. The impact cannot be denied as Azad continues to bring communities across Palestine together, he sums it up simply with a smile, “It is humanity that collects us to make a change for the better!”
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