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.
I am happy to tell you that work has resumed to finish our first three Rebuilding to Remain homes in Palestine.
Nearly 700 donors like you helped Rebuilding Alliance meet our Rebuilding to Remain fund raising goal, and we built the first 3 homes as promised in Al Aqaba Village in the Jordan Valley. This is one of the areas of the West Bank that is currently under demolition orders by the Israeli Army, Area C. We worked directly with the families to design energy efficient homes, together daring to draft Palestinian Building Permits where none existed, and created the first mortgage loan program for Area C.
Instead of waiting for the finishing grants promised by the Palestinian National Authority (its been over one year now), the families have agreed to extend their mortgage loan and Rebuilding Alliance is raising the funds caused by that shortfall to buy the doors, windows, tiles, and plumbing to finish so they can move in. Thanks to recent donations we are transferring $7000 this month in extended mortgage loans and will transfer additional loans each month as soon as donations arrive.
If only a small amount is raised each month, the families have decided to finish the homes one by one instead of finishing all simultaneously. They declined to draw straws to choose which home is finished first. Instead, Nabil, Safah, Othman and Sara all decided that Sadeq’s house should be finished first because Sadeq’s wedding waits for the day he can bring his bride home.
As you can see in the attached itemized budget, the total finishing costs for all three homes is $38,862. The families will be doing the painting, reducing the total to $33,417. With our transfer of $7000, we just need $26,417 to finish.
If we could finish all three at the same time it would be both safer and also, newsworthy as the village will hold a grand homecoming celebration that will be truly inspiring. All three homes could be finished in early March if all of us make a one-time donation of $50. Let’s make this happen.
If you would like to join me for that Homecoming celebration (and maybe even Sadeq’s wedding), please consider travelling with me on Rebuilding Alliance’s first-ever study tour, February 24-March 6th. Please give me a call if you would like to discuss a major donation or would like more information about the study tour. My cellphone is 650 440 9667.
I look forward to your reply.