Aya Al Kafarna, a 24-year old Palestinian freelancer from Gaza ©Mercy Corps (Gaza Sky Geeks)
“Working a regular 9-5 job, doing the same thing every single day - without appreciation or a decent salary - was never motivating to me.”Aya Al Kafarna has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the Islamic University of Gaza. Graduating in 2020, Aya left university with a desire to keep learning and growing - and big dreams of one day becoming a world-famous architect. After six months of applying to jobs and unsuccessfully attempting to join the workforce, Aya was left feeling discouraged and hopeless due to the high youth unemployment in the Gaza Strip. However, soon after joining the Gaza Sky Geeks Freelance Academy, her luck was about to change.
Challenge reality through freelancing
Palestinian youth suffer from a high unemployment and a lack of career opportunities due to the ongoing political situation and also the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Gaza’s unemployment rate stood at 43.1% in the final quarter of 2020, while it is speculated that youth unemployment may be as high as 70%. Moreover, the double lockdown at the Gaza crossing and precautions taken by the local authorities to curb the spread of the Coronavirus have caused additional obstacles for the economy in Gaza. However, with remote work on the rise Palestinian youth are searching for opportunities to start freelancing. And thankfully, it is now easier than ever to join the freelancing workforce through one of the many platforms and marketplaces that connect freelancers and remote workers with companies.
Staying relevant in a context beyond palestine
Graduating with a degree in architecture is under normal circumstances considered a big achievement that leads to great career opportunities, however, this is not the case in Palestine. Moreover, the global job market for architecture is constantly evolving, and techniques and methods are changing, making it very hard for Palestinian architects to stay relevant and compatible internationally.
Wanting more out of life, Aya didn’t want to limit herself to her current knowledge and expertise - she wanted to grow, gain international experience and exposure, and ultimately become financially independent. Aya felt that this would be possible through freelancing and by working with clients on projects from all over the world. That is why she joined the Gaza Sky Geeks’ Freelancing Academy:
“In the Freelancing Academy, I have learned how to deal with clients, building a portfolio, and bidding for job offers.”
Devotion, time management and dealing with power cuts
However, the constant power cuts in the Gaza Strip are one of the major challenges faced by Palestinians. Particularly freelancers who are committed to tight work deadlines rely on electricity to get the job done. Despite that, Aya has managed to find work-arounds and solutions to meet the expectations and deadlines of her clients:
“ I make sure that I will stay up all night, so I can deliver the needed work for clients - I have to keep my word to my clients! ”
Appreciation and trust biggest drivers of success
Aya has been freelancing for almost six months now, and she landed her first job with the help of the Gaza Sky Geeks while she was still enrolled in the program. Although the pay was very low - only $50 - Aya knew that successfully nailing her first gig would open doors to other potential clients.
“My first job was very tiring, and I had to put up with the client’s constant edits just to get a good review - but I knew it would pay off in the end!”
Now, Aya is working permanently with two engineers from Saudi Arabia and has been able to generate more than $4,500 in a matter of months. Additionally, she has had the joy of expanding her scope of her work to a wide variety of projects ranging from landscaping to interior design sketches to construction specifications.
“Although clients tend to give a lot of edits - especially on the sketches - their appreciation of my work and the trust they have given me keeps me moving forward.”
Despite humble beginnings, Aya feels her hard work and dedication are paying off, and particularly the appreciation and praise she receives for her work from satisfied clients are motivating her. She has gained the trust of her clients and is continuously working on new projects with the same portfolio of clients. Moreover, she is also receiving a growing number of recommendations and referrals, and as a result, Aya hardly has to apply for jobs through freelancing platforms anymore.
From one freelancer to another
At a glance, Aya’s story may sound rather unusual, but in more ways than one she is the first mover of her generation of Gazans. Aya firmly believed in her own potential, and she knew that she deserved more than what her current reality had to offer. She joined the Gaza Sky Geeks Freelancing Academy looking to make her dream of becoming a famous architect come true and pleasantly discovered that through freelancing the journey to her destination could be just as amazing.
“Dedication and hard work will eventually pay off - maybe even faster than you can imagine!”
Gaza Sky Geeks Freelancing Academy is a 15-week freelancing program designed to teach a broad spectrum of talents how to become successful online freelancers. Through sessions focusing on building a competitive online freelancing profile, social media marketing, and networking - the Gaza Sky Geeks Freelance Academy is the go-to tech upskilling institution for Palestinians.