PFP Alumna Working to Empower Women and Preserve Local Heritage in Lebanon

Martine Zaarour is a Department of State Professional Fellows Program alumna and the founder of Jar Thuraya, a food enterprise that provides preserved, home-made Lebanese products worldwide. Throughout her work, she has aimed to empower local Lebanese women who live in rural villages and to create a lasting social impact. The brand is also dedicated to sustainability, demonstrated through the 100% plastic-free & eco-friendly packaging, and commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda. Martine describes the three pillars of Jar Thuraya as: inclusivity, empowerment, and sustainability. 

Growing up, Martine’s grandmother regularly made mouneh, jars consisting of naturally preserved agricultural products, for her family of nine. Martine was inspired by this age-old tradition and thus the seeds of Jar Thuraya were planted in her mind. She continued preparing for her launch as she attended the 2019 PFP program and completed her fellowship at HUNGRY, a catering company that works with chefs of different ethnic backgrounds to provide a variety of cuisines and maintain a positive social impact. Once she completed the program, she returned to Lebanon, ready to launch Jar Thuraya. 

Martine was determined to empower local women and to help them become financially independent — she traveled to many different areas and found talented women to supply her with products. When she committed to help them market their merchandise and widen their customer base, she was met with extreme gratitude and intense emotion from the women who were excited to have someone take a chance on them. As a way to acknowledge their efforts, each jar is labeled with the name of the woman who made it and where she is from. 

Jar Thuraya’s main goal is to preserve local heritage through food. However, as Martine worked with more women in different areas, she came to realize that the younger generation lacks knowledge of the preparation and preservation techniques that these products require. Without being passed onto a new generation, traditional techniques will fade away over time and become a mere memory. To combat this, Jar Thuraya brought on six younger employees last year to create limited-edition fusions and twists on traditional Lebanese foods. Her hope is that as the younger generation gets more involved, they will be able to pass on these traditions to their kids, and so on. 

The women she works with have inspired Martine to take Jar Thuraya to new heights. Even throughout this unpredictable time, she has big plans to expand to selling various kinds of products, including homemade olive oil soap, and to begin selling on online platforms all around the world.  She is also looking into renting a central kitchen for Jar Thuraya. As their business grows, it is getting harder for the women to keep cooking in their own kitchens. Using a larger kitchen would allow them to conduct other activities like sterilizing, labeling, testing products, etc., all in one place and create a more streamlined process. 

Jar Thuraya has grown so much in its short existence, and is headed for great things. With Martine’s determination to keep local women involved and preserve Lebanese traditions, it’s clear that this organization is going to touch more lives than just those who purchase from them. 

Check out Jar Thuraya’s social media and available products on Lebzone,  an online Lebanese product marketplace!

The Professional Fellows Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by Legacy International.