Greetings from the West Bank, Palestine! A week ago Friday, Rebuilding Alliance's Accountant, Thai Hien Ho, and I were part of a remarkable meeting near Ein Yanoun at the home of the architect who designed this our third Abir's Garden playground. An engineer was also there to meet with us and quite a contingent of Combatants for Peace members, including both Israel and Palestinian members and Combatants for Peace board members. The meeting was gracefully conducted in three languages with Tel Aviv / Tulkarem Team Leaders Maya and Mohanad translating Hebrew and Arabic into English and back.
Our goal was to approve the plans for the third Abir’s Garden Playground and Youth Theater Program. I asked for the meeting because I was concerned that the playground plan presented to Rebuilding Alliance was too expensive at $24K. With the added cost, we would not be able to also fund the youth theater program. Remarkably by the end of the meeting a solution was found.
The Palestinian landscape architect, trained in Spain, stood by his design for the playground. He explained that the steep rocky grade requires extra work for leveling and to build the retaining walls, both for the lower playground and upper picnic area level. Combatants for Peace and Rebuilding Alliance were both impressed with his design and satisfied with his explanation.
Then magic happened: When I raised my concern about also being able to fund the Youth Theater program, a phone call was made to the mayor of Agraba. On behalf of the municipality of Agraba, the mayor agreed to match our grant, dollar for dollar! Project co-leader, Maya Katz, explained, "We have great cooperation with the Agraba Municipality. They provided a matching grant for our last project and our teams finished the parking lot and installed a garden at the new school for the village of Kirbet Twir."
So far we have transferred $12K to CfP so the mayor of Agraba confirmed that they will put in the starter $12K so that we'll complete the playground according to spec and launch the theater program! Combatant for Peace Bilal said, "We are really pleased to begin Phase 1 of the Abir's Garden playground construction in a few days time!"
If you would like to support our project again, one great day to do this will be on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 starting at 12:00:01 PM (noon) EDT when Microsoft's Youth Spark will provide a 50% match to donations (up to $1,000 per donor). The bonus competition will end April 17th, 2014, at 11:59:59 AM EDT.
NOTE: The project that has the most unique donors on Microsoft YouthSpark's Bonus Day will receive an additional $10,000 from Microsoft. We CAN DO this: Abir's Garden reached the most donors in the last YouthSpark bonus!
Please mark your calendar for noon, Wednesday April 16th through noon Thursday April 17th!
Please call me or send email as questions arise and I'll do my best to connect you with the Combatants for Peace team! My email is Contact@RebuildingAlliance.org and my phone here is 1-970-599-331-2811.
Thank you again for all that you've done to make this remarkable project a reality.
P.S. After the meeting, one of the Combatants for Peace took us to visit Ein Yanoun so that Thai and I could take pictures at the empty site of the playground. One of the villagers introduced us to the three internationals who are living in the village and working with the villagers to keep everyone safe. It is a real challenge and very scary — this village is surrounded by 5 settlements with very threatening settlers. We want to help everyone there to stay in touch with all of you, our Abir's Garden Playground donors, so that in any future moment of need we can all relay their call to our elected officials to rouse the diplomatic corps. Thank you again.
A week ago Sunday, we met with Ms. Kefah Akram, the new librarian at the Ibn Rush’d Library in Al Aqaba. Raheya Alsbaih, director of the Rural Women’s Association, joined us as did Josie Shields-Stromsness who drove up from Bethlehem for our meeting. Josie is part of the Middle East Children’s Alliance and works with a number of library projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
This day, May 16th, was the 11th anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death in Gaza and we are here in this little village facing demolition orders on nearly all the buildings. We marked her anniversary by meeting to explore how to use the funds you’ve donated to best help children and youth through this wonderful library. We also used our meeting to develop our scholarship program for kindergarteners (but I’ll leave that for a separate report). Al Aqaba is holding steady through their good work, your support, and everyone’s intervention. I hope Rachel would be proud of our work.
Let me tell you more about our meeting and our follow-up visit the next day:
Just before our trip, Rebuilding Alliance’s Board approved the transfer of a grant of $4,326 for the Ibn Rush’d Library. Half of this will cover Kefah’s salary for the year, and the other half will be used to expand the wall of the library onto the covered porch to make the library bigger and include indoor access to the restroom. Mayor Haj Sami asked me to help make plans for Kefah’s library training at the AlAnwar Children's Library in Hebron.
Do you remember that the Ibn Rush’d Library project has been accepted into Microsoft Youth Spark grant program? On April 16th there will be a Bonus Day with Microsoft matching 50% to each dollar donated — please mark your callendar.
It was really fun to use our meeting to brainstorm about the entrepreneurship program for young people that the Ibn Rush’d Library will be offering as part of the Youth Spark grant. The next day we went on a Field Trip to Canaan Fair Trade to help Librarian Kifah learn more about entrepreneurship by seeing how wonderfully successful Canaan has become. Founder Nasser Abufarha will be returning next month and would be pleased to host a group of students to tell them how he came up with the idea of Fair Trade Olive Oil and what it took to get this wonderful business started. Librarian Kifah asked a ton of questions and got to thinking about a list of speakers. She'll send us her plans soon.
We also noted that the computers in the library are not currently connected to the Internet, in part because the mayor is afraid that everyone will just be on Facebook, not doing any real learning. To overcome that fear, we proposed uploading the offline educational content offered by www.worldpossible.org
Lastly, we asked Librarian Kifah and Kindergarten Director Raheya Sbaih to become members of the Beyond Access organization in the hope they can receive scholarships to attend their annual international conference this year or next.
Thank you again for your incredible support. Again, please mark your calendar for April 16th and give as early as you can that day to benefit by Microsoft's 50% match.
Greetings from Jerusalem! Rebuilding Alliance’s Accountant and Assistant Project Manager, Thai Hien Ho, and I arrived yesterday to a rainy, blustery, thunder-stormy Jerusalem.
Tomorrow we’ll be meeting with the team at the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) who wrote the newly released, “Area C Vulnerability Profile”. As stated in the report, “An estimated 297,900 people live in 532 residential areas in Area C, comprising some of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank in terms of humanitarian needs.” (see attached link). If you've been looking at the West Bank via GoogleMaps, Area C looks so very empty — the villages have already disappeared. That's a problem we should be able to fix. With the help of a friend at Google, Thai and I will be conveying UNOCHA’s data to the mapping team at Google so that those missing 532 residential areas including some 148 Palestinian towns will show up on Google’s maps of the West Bank.
When I think about all that Rebuilding Alliance does, I feel that this project, the U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages, is one of our most important. I’m delighted to report that we’ve used project funding to purchase a GPS camera and also MapAnything Software to help build the software app that will make it easier to contact congress. Here’s what we plan to do on this trip:
1. We want the U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages to build on our success in keeping one village, Al Aqaba, standing despite demolition orders issued on 97% of the village including nearly all the homes, the medical clinic and our kindergarten. What’s worked is our collective engagement with congressional staffers who call the U.S. State Department and the Israeli Embassy at their constituents’ request as soon as demolition bulldozers are on the move. We hope to meet with the American Consulate in Jerusalem to explore how to extend this to other at-risk villages;
2. We are in touch with Reverend Yoshii and the Friends of Wadi Foquin Village who are also visiting the area. Their congressional briefing was very successful but in January, the Israeli Army destroyed some 200 newly planted olive trees in Wadi Foquin. That’s the type of destruction we hope can be avoided by developing a contact congress “early warning system” approach, much like we’ve done in Al Aqaba.
3. We’re working with a group of UC Berkeley Computer Science Students who are part of a chapter called, “Code the Change” to develop better mapping tools for projects like this, both as a way to raise funds for construction and tree planting projects and also as a way to monitor progress over time and build advocacy to keep each project area safe too. Their prototype may be ready next month!
4. We look forward to meeting the legal team at Rabbis for Human Rights to hear about their lawsuit to assure villages in Area C to plan their future growth. Thai and I hope to meet with them to explore how we can focus U.S. attention on this important concept through our advocacy software.
Thank you again for your support of the U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages and for your patience as we work through our software development phase. This is such a critical time — I hope our software app. will be ready soon, soon enough to keep the villages standing in Area C.