Greetings from Al Aqaba Village. I am delighted to be here to invite you to celebrate Sadiq and Lema's Wedding on Friday, April 18th. Everyone is working hard to make sure their house is finished on time.
Their wedding plans are modest by local standards: a henna party at the Fiancee's house on Thursday, the celebration for men and women (but not the bride) on Friday at Mayor Haj Sami's house with the Rural Women's Association serving the dinner, and then the celebration just for the women, bride and groom on Saturday.
Mayor Haj Sami invites you to this the National Wedding of Sadiq and Lema on the 18th. In the invitation, he wrote, "Come celebrate the return of this first family of displaced citizens to their new affordable home, crowd-funded by people around the world (that's you!) and the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing Displaced."
The wonderful series of photos attached to this report makes the finishing of the house look easy. I'm happy to report that the challenges were the normal things that nearly everyone faces when building a home: the contractor wanted more money. Because the dollar fell 9.2% since we spec'd the house in 2011, the price of materials rose even more.
Rebuilding Alliance founding board member Ghassan Abdullah joined me for a walk-through with the Rebuilding to Remain families and a good discussion with Mayor Haj Sami. Next our award-winning architect, Hani Hassan, visited and joined us for a discussion with the families, Mayor Haj Sami and me, thoroughly reviewing the contract. When Mayor Haj Sami and I spoke with the contractor the next day, we were able to reach a fair agreement re. extra costs for this home. Finishing of the next two homes will see the Al Aqaba Community Assembly for Housing Displaced seeking bids and contracting directly with each craftsman instead of working with a general contractor.
Rebuilding Alliance board met on Monday night California time (5am here) to elect two new board members and then elect officers. A big welcome to Rebuilding Alliance's new Board Chair Nadia Cooper, Secretary Kali Rubaii, Treasurer Carin Pacifico and new board members Jeremy McCain and Akber Malik. The board carefully reviewed and approved my request to transfer the remaining funds due plus $3773 in additional charges needed to finish, bringing the total cost of this first home to $37,073. The families agreed to ammend their mortgage agreement with the Al Aqaba Cooperative Assembly for Housing Displaced to include the finishing costs, thus extending their mortgage to a total of 24 years at a monthly payment of $150/mo. We all hope this revolving mortgage loan fund will be used to help build many more homes.
Lastly, you may be wondering what's happening with the overall status of our Rebuilding to Remain homes vis a vis the Israeli Army. Last week, Mayor Haj Sami Sadek posted urgent photos on his Facebook page when the Israeli Army held spring training exercises all around, and over the village. Thankfully, the Israeli Army held to their agreement, as brokered by the Israeli High Court, and did not use live fire inside the village.
Our Rebuilding to Remain homes have received their building permits from the Al Aqaba Village Council, the first Palestinian-issued building permits in Area C. Our homes are being build inside a red line drawn by the Israeli High Court in 2008 when they said, "For the time being the center of the village can remain standing." So far, thankfully, no demolition orders. I hope the world will find Rebuilding to Remain as inspiring as we do — please hold our homes, these families, and this project in the light. If possible, please forward this message to your senators and representative to ask them to be ready to make calls for us if needed. But first, very soon, let's celebrate a wedding.Thanks again,Donna
P.S. Please mark your calendar for May 7th, the next GlobalGiving Bonus Day Match. Let's use that 30% match that day to fund completion of the next two homes, and once those are done, let's raise enough to provide mortgage loans to the other seven famiies who've started building inside that circle, all with building permits issued by the Village Council.
Greetings from Ramallah! The scholarship project is really taking off, all because of you.
Earlier this year, Kindergarten Director Raheya Alsbaih and Mayor Haj Sami sent the list of children who would especially benefit from the scholarship program and their photos. From your donations we transferred a grant of $5,565.68 for the 26 children in families facing unemployment, financial difficulties, health program or who just show a particular aptitude to learn. I've attached a translated summary of the selection list.
As soon as Thai Hien Ho and I arrived in the West Bank we met with the Kindergarten Director to discuss the implementation of the scholarship program. Kindergarten Director Raheya explained, "The scholarship will not involve a transfer of funds to the families but instead the families will be privately notified that their fees are being waived. We will start reporting specifics back to you soon."
The photos sent to us as we announced this program show anxious, needy children in the cold of winter. Now, in springtime, they all blend in and with the care of their teachers and parents, they just shine. I've posted a few pictures from the recent Land Day celebrations on March 31st to give you a sense of how remarkable they are ... behind me were hundreds of moms snapping photos of their little ones.
This kindergarten is such a special place, filled with 130 students and now 20 more. A new grant from the British Consulate and the Welfare Association upgraded the kitchen to offer hot lunches. The Estonian Government continues to send a teacher every three months who lives at the guest house and teaches the little ones. Kindergarten Teacher Trainer Expert Abla Mahroun, who designed the kindergarten along with Engineer Laila Sbaih when Rebuilding Alliance first built it, came back to offer the teachers additional insight.
I wish I could stop my report there, reflecting back the beaming children in the bright sunny days of spring. The hard part is that for three days this past week, Al Aqaba Village was like the eye of a hurricane, in this case a booming mass of Israeli Army soldiers training with guns and mortar from all sides of the village. Everyone is safe, there was no shooting in the village itself, but machine gun fire, sonic booms, and tank fire can be really scary for children. The bus drivers and teachers modeled reassurance and calm.
If you would like to support our Kindergarten Scholarship 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. Please mark your calendar for noon, Wednesday April 16th through noon Thursday April 17th — and ask your friends to mark their calendar too.
I head back to Al Aqaba Village in just a few days time and will be happy to convey any questions you may have to the staff or to the children and get back to you. Please email me at contact@RebuildingAlliance.org or call me at 0119702313811.
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.