COVID-19 and the World of Work

Jury Kebekol blends culture and business

In this month’s Q&A, we caught up with the very talented Jury Kebekol, a traditional weaver from Palau. Jury is currently part of a cohort of cultural and creative workers receiving trade and business training through the UN Informal Economies Recovery Project.

Project documentation | 18 October 2021
Jury Kebekol
Jury Kebekol spoke to us about her work, the challenges she faces and her passion in passing on her knowledge.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background as a weaver!

I am from Kayangel State. I was born in 1950 and learned weaving in my early teen years but started to sell my weaving when I was 19 years old. Kayangel is an atoll island north of Palau well known for its weaving using pandanus leaves. I was surrounded by many talented weavers in my family and in my community. I observed and learned on my own how to produce many different designs of bags, mats, and whatever people asked me to make.

The income I earned from weaving helped with our daily household needs. I moved to Koror but continued to weave. I wanted to make sure I had some retirement funds and so I joined the Senior Citizens Employment program where I made pandanus bags, mats, and other orders that were sold at the Old Age Center in Koror. By doing this I was able to earn enough credits towards my Social Security benefits after 13 years of service.

What are some of the challenges you face as a weaver in Palau?

One of the main challenges is lack of access to pandanus. Kayangel has a pandanus plantation but only a few women maintain and collect its leaves which are sold in Koror. When I was working for the Senior Citizens Employment Program, I had a regular supply of pandanus but when I retired, I stopped. The pandanus plantation is also affected when we have typhoons.

I have very little knowledge about other handcraft businesses in Palau but I know that my craft supported my family to meet our daily needs. When we have orders from customers, especially from gift shops or government offices, I can produce more if I have enough pandanus.

What do you think is needed to ensure the ongoing production of handicrafts and woven products in Palau?

I think we need more training and people to learn how to weave or do other crafts. I am willing to teach and in fact that is what I have been doing in the past during summer time. I get hired to teach summer school children in Koror but I don’t mind teaching adults too.

How do you think the UN training will help you and what areas will you be focusing on?

Through this UNESCO training, I now know that I can get processed pandanus leaves at the Museum gifts shop. I’ve never had any formal business training and truthfully, I’m a bit nervous about it. I’m not good at speaking in public but I can teach adult and young people who want to learn to weave. Now that I am retired, I receive my meagre monthly benefits at the end of the month but I still rely on selling my weaving products to support our family.