I've just returned home from a remarkable speaking tour with author Laila El Haddad and her baby Malaak who celebrated her 1st birthday as they travelled on tour. Laila is co-author of The Gaza Kitchen: a Palestinian Culinary Journey. When co-author Maggie Schmitt cancelled due to illness, Laila and I loaded my Prius with car seat, luggage, cookbooks and as much Fair Trade Organic Olive Oil as we could fit and we set-off on tour throughout the SF Bay area, Sacramento, Grass Valley, and Sonoma.
Laila was recently featured on Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Though little known outside the region, Gazan cooking is famous within the Arab world for its rich seafood dishes and its unique combinations of flavors: hot peppers, rich spices, fresh herbs… a cuisine that Anthony Bourdain calls “unlike anything” he’s ever tasted in the Middle East! Through her blog and book Gaza Mom and her work as a journalist, documentarian, media activist, public speaker and policy advisor she provides rare insight into the human experience of the region.
At Kitchen on Fire, we cooked a six-course meal. Class Menu:
Chef Olive regularly holds classes for young people — it will be exciting to include him as a guest speaker in the Fair Trade Jobs and Entrepreneurship program we are creating.
At Sacramento City College, Professor Riad Bahhur invited his Middle East History class and also a Women's Studies class to hear Laila's presentations. Prof. Riad used the kitchen classroom to prepare and serve the spicy red lentil & kale soup recipe! He is working with Laila on a documentary about Palestinian cuisine and he will be delighted to advise and host our Fair Trade Jobs and Entrepreneurship program at Sacramento City College.
BIG NEWS: I am happy to tell you that our project, Create Fair Trade Jobs in California, was approved for Microsoft's "Youth Spark" initiative. For 24 hours starting on December 3rd, Microsoft will be providing a 1:1 matching grant and they plan to give away $250,000 that day. The road trip was a great way to explore possibilities — this week we'll update the project description to describe our plans in detail so that we can announce the program and the matching grant at our booth at the San Francisco Green Festival this weekend on Nov. 9th and 10th. Again, thank you for your passion for Fair Trade from Palestine and your faith in Rebuilding Alliance's ability to make this Fair Trade Jobs & Entrepreneurship project take shape. Our project will have positive and tangible impact here in the U.S. and as the sales of Fair Trade olive oil go up, that impact will stretch around the world to the Palestinian Fair Trade Association’s growers and women's cooperatives! We’re so excited!
Our project, Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders, continues to grow. I and Sophia Omar were both there for the first day of school on August 24th in Al Aqaba Village — so very exciting! I am happy to announce that a new teacher, from Estonia, is now working in Al Aqaba through a grant provided by the Estonian government. Some 160 children registered for the Al Haq Kindergarten -- one of Al Aqabaa's largest classes ever.
I promise to write more soon about the new programs that Librarian Haneen has been developing new programs at the Ibn Rush'd Library. We may be able to qualify these for the Microsoft Youth Spark matching grant -- more on this by the end of this week.
What I do want to share, in addition to these great photos, is something I noticed when Sophia and I joined Combatants for Peace to visit a school they helped finish for a small Palestinian village called Kirbet Twire. The new school is beautiful, funded by the European Community — but the school is not in the village it serves. It is a half mile away, uphill, no school bus. The village itslef is in Area C and faces demolition orders (as does Al Aqaba) Instead of risking the demolition of the school, the Palestinian Authority and the donor governments placed the school in Area B, leaving Kirbet Twire without its children, without direct investment in its infrastructure, and, I would argue, even more at risk of demolition.
When we came back to Al Aqaba that evening, I asked Mayor Haj Sami how he built the elementary school there, in the village itself. One thing he did was to attach it directly to his home, one of two pre-1968 structures that are free of demolition orders. Also, he got private funding to build the school and only asked for PA help to staff it after it was built. With the kindergarten, I know that story — Rebuilding Alliance had a small grant to buils a school that would not be demolished and so we responded to Al Aqaba's request and then Japan, Norway and Belgium added the 2nd floor ... and so it has grown and we've all kept it standing.
You support has made a big difference in this process. Your calls to your members of Congress have been invaluable at pivotal times, like when we helped Al Aqaba bring their case before the Israeli High Court in 2008 or when we asked for U.S. State Department assistance last June and the Israeli Army stopped live-fire training in the village that night and did not return.
Our strategy to support the building of Al Aqaba's kindergarten despite demolition orders has helped Al Aqaba become the vibrant village it is today. Sophia and I had the pleasure of meeting a representative of the British Consul and also of the Palestine Welfare Fund while in Al Aqaba — very exciting to hear of their new grants to improve the kindergarten! What we all set in motion is a network of assistance, both financial and diplomatic, to keep this village standing. It is a good model — your support for this program is the key, so deeply appreciated!
Thank you again for your support. When our U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages won the Global Giving competition, we moved forward with care. Here is what our U.S. Movement has done so far:
Confirmed by our visit to Palestine, our U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages is needed now more than ever. Our Contact Congress software could be of use to many villages and supporting organizations — we hope to have our software up and running by December or January as a team of students at UC Berkeley’s Code the Change Chapter want to help us. I am seeking a volunteer coder or techie who can help coordinate this in depth.
Thank you again for supporting our U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages. I hope you are excited by the accomplishments we have achieved and I hope this gives you a sense of the challenges we face.
As always, please feel free to give me a call with any questions or suggestions: 650 440 9667 is my cellphone.