Dear Friend, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your support last year and the years before. I also want to bring you exciting news about our project, Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders. Two new visiting teachers have joined the team in the West Bank Palestinian village of Al Aqaba: Dan Pritt from Estonia and Elaine Zhu from China! I also want to take this moment to ask for your help to pay staff salaries at the Al Haq Kindergarten. Like all kindergartens in Palestine, this is a private kindergarten. It has expanded to serve 160 children this year, because the Palestinian Authority is providing salary for 3 new teachers — but the salaries for all the other teachers, director, bus driver, and janitor comes from tuition payments. The bus driver covers a good part of the Northern Jordan Valley to pick up students, an area that is targeted for demolitions and impacted by forced relocations. They need your help. Our project, Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders, started in 2010, has enable quite a group of amazing visiting teachers — Kali Rubaii, Matt DeMaio, Morgan Bach, and Ian Leech — to work in Al Aqaba. This program also supports local teachers' salaries and ensures that the kindergarten is able to keep the mainstay of its educators. Dan Pritt, our 6th visiting teacher, has been teaching English in the kindergarten for two months. Dan is from Estonia and currently on academic leave from Tartu University. He came to Al Aqaba because he believes "one cannot find knowledge by just occupying seats in the local library or classroom." Dan believes “that education is one of the central keys to any kind of bright future or a sustainable solution, and while teaching in the kindergarten, my belief has become even more compelling and self-evident." To our delight, we also welcome Elaine Zhu, the charismatic 7th teacher! "I spent two days with kids and took a lot of photos of them," Elaine told us, "and also had a great conversation with Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq. Then, I decided to come back. And I did. The smile on kids' faces and the kindness from the mayor and villagers brought me back here!" Elaine, who is from Guangzhou, China, was aware of the challenges facing her to teach in the village but she was determine to become a part of the community and make a difference for the children of the village "For me, both to be a first time teacher and to teach kids from a culture that is very different from mine own is not easy," Elaine explained, "Therefore, I am not just teaching, but also learning. I'm so much more than just a teacher. I learn how to interact with children, how to cooperate with the people from a different cultural background, and how to understand the situation of this village, which is under demolition orders. I'm part of Al Aqaba village, and this place if part of my life now." "Education is the great engine to personal development," Nelson Mandela, the well-known statesmen, once said, "It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation." Kindergarten is the first step for children on their journey through the educational landscapes they will cross throughout their life. Through your support, and concerned people like you, the children of Al Aqaba are getting the best beginning on this voyage, by supporting amazing teachers including the staff of the kindergarten and visiting teachers Dan and Elaine.
Sincerely, Donna Baranski-Walker Found and Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance
Good news is in the making and I'll be sending details as soon as I have them. I learned that we may be able to fund not just one by two Abir's Gardens: one in Al Aqaba Village and the other in Ein-Yanun!
Combatants for Peace will soon be sending the specifics, including type of equipment, where it's coming from, cost, etc. Combatants for Peace requested a playground in Ein-Yanun because their Nablus group has had ongoing contact with this small village, and a playground there would to strengthen CfP's work there.
Everyone involved is looking forward to getting started soon.
Thanks to your support, we're now very close to completing the fundraising to meet Rebuilding Alliance's commitment to construct the first three homes in the Rebuilding to Remain program. More challenging is whether or not the Palestian National Authority will be able to meet their commitment. I've been meeting with advisers and talking with Mayor Haj Sami to figure out a Plan B and so get the houses finished. More on this soon.
In the meantime, I put all my frequent flier miles together and flew to Washington D.C. a week and a half ago to explore ways to move our rebuilding projects and our advocacy work forward. I was joined by Morgan Bach, our second visiting teacher in Al Aqaba. Together we met with sister organizations to invite them to join our Stay Human Conference Call series, visited with other NGO building companies to explore new projects, and also met with senior staffers to request their assistance with the State Department. We visited old friends and made new friends too.
An especially positive moment came when I joined Morgan for a Lutheran Service only to somehow find ourselves in the 40 year anniversary celebration for N Street Village, a remarkable residential shelter for homeless women. Forty years ago it must have felt as bleak and hopeless as Israel/Palestine peace feels today, yet they persevered and now N Street Village is a beautiful place and a model for everyone.
With Israel announcing the E-1 punishment for Palestinian statehood and the U.S. Congress announcing various amendments to cut-back U.S. humanitarian aid to Palestine, Rebuilding Alliance's work is needed more than ever. U.S.-back mortgage insurance for Palestinian families in Area C could change the game. Below is a copy of my letter to Diane Feinstein, Senator from California.
P.S. Morgan's speaking tour continues in December and January. Please give me a call if you would like to hold a houseparty fundraiser or a speaking event. My cellphone is 650 440 9667.
Dear Senator Feinstein, December 6, 2012
I am writing as your constituent to ask you to seek clarification on my behalf of U.S. policy regarding American investment in Palestinian housing in ‘Area C’. Please forward my letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I am the founder of Rebuilding Alliance, a U.S. nonprofit organization that offers mortgage loans to Palestinian families in Area C to help them build their homes on the land they own. Rebuilding Alliance’s pilot project is called Rebuilding to Remain. We work with Israelis as advocates and use the Israeli legal system to pursue building permits and petition to freeze demolition orders. Three homes are now in construction in Al Aqaba Village in the northern Jordan Valley near Tubas where in 2004, Rebuilding Alliance built a kindergarten that serves 160 children/year.
Here’s the challenge: despite holding clear title to their land, 97% of the buildings in Al Aqaba Village — including the kindergarten — have been issued demolition orders by the Israeli Army. When Rebuilding Alliance requested mortgage loan insurance, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) said U.S. government policy requires denial of mortgage insurance to Palestinian families in Area C. This can’t be true.
Rebuilding Alliance works to help Palestinian families in Area C build their homes on the land they own, find employment, educate their children, and plan their future. I know the U.S. seeks to realize these goals as well through USAID programs to support Palestinian infrastructure development in Area C.
While OPIC insures Palestinian mortgages in Areas A and B, their mortgage loan insurance does not extend to Area C because the Israeli Army refuses to issue building permits to Palestinian families living there. As you may know, the Israeli Army is denying Palestinian master plans and thus denying building permits to Palestinian families in Area C while the Government of Israel is simultaneously issuing building permits to illegally expand Israeli settlements on occupied land. The Israeli Army denied Al Aqaba’s 3rd master plan on June 21st 2012 for no good reason. On Mar. 14, 2012, Al Aqaba Village became the first Palestinian village in Area C to issue building permits, realizing both the text and the spirit of the Oslo Accords. On Apr. 14, 2012, Rebuilding Alliance became the first group to provide mortgage loans, including a clause stating that if the home is demolished, the family will not make payments until occupancy is restored. I ask your help to make OPIC mortgage loan insurance available for Rebuilding Alliance’s Rebuilding to Remain mortgage loan program to fully develop this revolving mortgage loan program.
Please ask Secretary of State Clinton to issue a policy directive instructing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to guarantee Rebuilding Alliance’s mortgage loans in the Rebuilding to Remain program. Please ask her to make U.S. policy clear: starting with Al Aqaba, recognize the right of Palestinian villages in Area C to issue building permits in accordance with their master plans —just like towns throughout the U.S. — and support that right by providing U.S.-backed mortgage insurance.
I look forward to your prompt reply. Sincerely,Donna Baranski-Walker Founder & Executive Director