I visited Al Aqaba village on Sunday 14th of March. When you come to this tiny village, it’s very quiet until reaching the center when you start to hear the children voices all around you. Their lively voices and laughter bring life and energy to this place, even as the sounds of heavy weapons and machine gun training at nearby Israeli military camps would overwhelm the human voice of existence. The children are happy and active. They sing songs to me and let me into their world.
"I like coming to the Kindergarten to play with my friends and have fun" "I like learning the alphabets and singing songs here" "I like to draw plans" It was clear how the kindergarten offers an important space for these children to live and grow.
Kindergarten principal Noha said, "The kindergarten is the energy dynamo of Al Aqaba village and the essential element of life here. It's like the minaret in the middle of the sea. Even when parents come to pick their children they like to stay around for a while and hang out in the playground. It's the only outlet for everyone here and the source of good feelings for everyone around."
I want to say we’ve got to do better at raising funds for scholarships.
The kindergarten, like all early childhood education in Palestine is private and it depends upon tuition to pay staff and expenses. Sadly Noha, the principal told me that ten children dropped out since January this year. And almost all students have not paid their fees for January and February. This might result in more students quitting as it embarrasses parents when they cannot pay tuition. It certainly puts financial pressure on the administration. Many students haven't paid for many months from last year and tens can't even join the kindergarten.
“We want to give all children the opportunity to come to school, and we want to hold on to our students and give them the best learning experiences, however it’s hard with the limited resources and difficulties we face,” said Principal Noha.
It is not just the kindergarten building that keeps the whole village standing — it's the wonder and hope of all these children. I hope you will continue to support Kindergarten Scholarships for Palestine – especially the Kindergarten in Al Aqaba. P.S On Wednesday, March 18th you can stretch your donation to Kindergarten Scholarships further! It's a Global Giving match day and all donations up to $1,000 will be matched by 30% starting at 9 a.m. EST. Set your alarms!
The Rural Women’s Association of Al Aqaba is making good progress in their development of a business plan for the Rural Women’s Restaurant, yet to be built. Last month, I visited Al Aqaba village and joined the Rural Women’s Center’s board in a meeting with youth from the entrepreneurs club of Al Aqaba. We discussed how to implement a survey of potential customers, created by the Middle East Investment Initiative (MEII) team to determine how many people would come to the future Rural Women’s Restaurant. The MEII Technical Assistance Program team has come to Al Aqaba to hold discussions with Al Aqaba Rural Women Association, Al Aqaba village council and Rebuilding Alliance. Rebuilding Alliance had introduced the MEII Technical Assistance Program to the Al Aqaba Rural Womens Association to help plan their income-generating enterprises, specifically their restaurant, guest house, and wedding hall. They start with a restaurant that would serve different groups: (1) the community of Al Aqaba village and surrounding area, (2) students at the kindergarten and elementary school, and maybe also schools nearby, (3) governmental and non-governmental visitors attending workshops and meetings in Al Aqaba (there is a vibrant conference center) and (4) internationals delegations and visitors. The survey targeted three areas; Al Aqaba village, Tayaseer village and Tubas town. We were delighted to have the help of the youth of Al Aqaba in this task. 12 volunteers attended the meeting; 4 from each area. Based on the population of each area, they completed 120 surveys for Tubas area, 50 for Tayaseer and 50 for Al Aqaba. Ibn Rush’d Librarian Kefah Taleb (who is also the coordinator for the Ibn Rush’d Youth Entrepreneurship program) helped in planning and tabulated their results.
"There's a lot of local enthusiasm about building a Rural Women's Restaurant in Al Aqaba," said Librarian and Entrepreneurship coordinated Kifah as the survey results came in. I translated the survey results so you can take a look (click on it below). The MEII TAP team recently completed their financial analysis and shared their suggestions and perspective with Al Aqaba Rural Women Association. They thought the Rural Women's Restaurant is just viable -- we still have a lot of questions and are meeting with the Rural Women's Association and the TAP team in ten day's time to move the business plan forward. We look forward to raising funds for construction of the restaurant!
Thank you for your faith in us and in this project.
P.S. On Wednesday, March 18th you can stretch your donation the Rural Women's Restaurant in Area C! It's a Global Giving match day and all donations up to $1,000 will be matched by 30% starting at 9 a.m. EST. Please set your alarm!
We are very proud that due to your help, Al Aqaba Village completed construction of the first three affordable homes in our signature project, Rebuilding to Remain in Palestine. Sadeq and his bride moved-in on the night of their wedding in April. Othman and Sara and their children moved-in just before Ramadan in June. Teachers Nabil and Safa delayed their move to also allow Safa to finish her teaching degree program in Hebron. They hope to move-in soon.
I'm writing now to discuss the direction of this important project.
Our next goal is bold yet simple: Help 10 more families build and move in to affordable homes on the land they own. We want to use the revolving construction loan model Rebuilding Alliance piloted with Al Aqaba's community credit union in building these first three homes. Revolving means that as each family repays its loans to Rebuilding Alliance's office in Ramallah, those funds become available to fund more new home construction. The first three families are already repaying their loans.
Ten is a realizeable construction goal that offers both a big opportunity as well as real challenges. The opportunity is this: last summer, as the families were moving in to their new homes, Rebuilding Alliance was invited to apply for something called Political Risk Insurance. The Managing Director, Insurance and Reinsurance at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) conveyed the invitation. It was surprising because I've been asking OPIC for many years to give us and Al Aqaba this insurance for construction in Area C.
By August, all OPIC applications re. Palestine were put on hold. In January, when I asked them to re-open our application, they were happy to hear from us - but sadly, over the weekend I was informed that Palestinian construction in Area C is still too risky for OPIC to provide us with Political Risk Insurance.
Their questions however opened the possibility of forming a political risk insurance consortium instead of simply relying on OPIC as the sole insurer. I leave for Palestine on March 9th to meet with the Development Finance Institutions (DFI’s) of other some six other countries, and also the World Bank, to explore the possibility of their insuring the Rebuilding to Remain Revolving Construction Loan program that would be administered by Rebuilding Alliance or Al Aqaba Villagers themselves.
Now the details: If we stay with the original plan to qualify Rebuilding Alliance as the loan-maker, Rebuilding Alliance must formally register our branch office in Ramallah and raise a significant reserve as required by the Palestinian Monetary Authority. We'll will have time to reach the reserve requirement — and it will be especially reachable if Rebuilding Alliance secures Political Risk Insurance.
What is Political Risk Insurance (PRI)? Because Israeli Knesset members openly discuss demolition of Palestinian homes as a way to move them out of Area C, demolitions must now be viewed unabiguously as an act of political violence. As such, one can insure against this (if you are a government with a policy against it). Basically, if countries join our consortium and share the risk, the DFI's would insure our construction for at least 90% of loss due to any political act. So if Rebuilding Alliance has PRI, and if bulldozers threatened to demolish our homes, the consortium governments (and let's hope OPIC joins in downstream) would pay to rebuild them and also seek reparations from the Government of Israel.
PRI could a game-changer for Palestinain families in Area C. This guarantee against demolitions would certainly make it easier for us to raise funds to build the next 10 houses. My challenge in these upcoming discussions is to show why Al Aqaba is a good risk and why the are within their legal and moral rights per the Oslo Accords and International Law to issue their own building permits.
Rebuilding Alliance's request to you:When you donated to this project, Rebuilding Alliance promised to use your donation for construction -- and we did, succeeding in a remarkable pilot project. Now I ask your permission to use your donation to take the administrative steps necessary to build more affordable homes. In the next few days, I will send you an email asking your permission to use Rebuilding to Remain funds to allow Rebuilding Alliance to seek Political Risk Insurance and also register Rebuilding Alliance in Palestine as a loan-maker so that we can raise funds and build the next 10 homes and more.
There's no guarantee of success but if we succeed, this will be the very first time that Palestinian construction in Area C is guaranteed to remain. Rebuilding Alliance Board Member, Paula Crow esq. is an expert in affordable housing and real estate law. When discussing next steps with OPIC, Paula said, "If Al Aqaba Village does not deserve Political Risk Insurance, I don't know who does." Thank you for supporting Rebuilding to Remain and for believing in Al Aqaba and in us.