In an earlier report, I mentioned that Abir's Garden Playground in Al Aqaba is receiving a matching grant from Playgrounds for Palestine. In the past two weeks their team visited Al Aqaba to determine the site for the playground and discuss the earth-friendly goals for the design.
And that's where things get interesting! Al Aqaba Village has launched a remarkable tea factory (funded by the Japanese government) that is doing very well. Now the French will be funding a tea house and an upgrade to the Al Aqaba guesthouse too. Even the UNDP is interested in funding a community center project!
Our Abir's Garden playground design will put the children at the center of all of this, in the warm and watchful eye of their parents and the visitors who will keep this Area C village standing despite demolition orders. Next step: find the right landscape architect! I'll send you the designs as soon as I receive them.
Meanwhile, a remarkable fundraising project has been launched by John, Gethin and Jon in Britain. They are planning to swim from Europe to Asia on August 30th to raise funds for Abir's Garden. More specifically, they'll be swimming the Hellespont River: "Situated in Turkey, The Hellespont is undoubtedly one of the most significant open water swims in the world. In 1810, Lord Byron the English Poet became the first known person to swim across the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. He swam it in honour of Leander, who in Greek Mythology, would swim nightly across this stretch of water to his lover Hero." We're focusing on the 4th Abir's garden for that project, in the West Bank Village of Ein Yanoun where Combatants for Peace regularly meets. I'll have pictures available soon!
Thank you again for making all this possible! Your contribution in memory of a little girl, Abir Aramin, is a way to give Palestinian children a safe place to grow. We've got a long way to go to keep this tragedy from ever happening again but through the safe playgrounds, through Combatants for Peace, and through your commitment this dream is held in the light.
I am delighted to send photos of the first three Rebuilding to Remain homes, funded through your wonderful donation! This past week, when architect Stephen Coyle spoke at a Rebuilding Alliance benefit dinner in Palo Alto California, he reminded me of the incredible work we did with the villagers, designing the affordable, expandable homes that would help them move back to Al Aqaba Village — and now those homes are taking shape (see photos below).
In my last email, I may have explained that Al Aqaba Village received a commitment from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the finishing of each home ($13,000 per unit). That was before all salaries were frozen when Israel stopped forwarding tax revenues to the P.A. and the U.S. stopped all development funding too. It seems funds may be flowing once again ... I hope our homes will receive their finishing grants soon.
Thank you for your patience.
P.S. There've been no demolition threats in Al Aqaba itself in the last 9 months. The village continues to move forward in its rebuilding efforts with the brick factory, an exciting new Women's Building, big sales for the "Herbal Infusion" factory (herbal teas) and more. Meanwhile the UN is reporting an increase in demolitions in Area C, East Jerusalem and the E-1 corridor, so we are developing the U.S. Movement to Save Palestinian Villages drawing deeply on the Al Aqaba model. Your support has made this all possible.
Thank you again for your support. Your donation makes it possible for Rebuilding Alliance to bring together a remarkable team to do something that no one could do alone: install a birthing center that will serve a population of 50,000 people in the northern part of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. I am writing to say that our birthing center implementation plans are stalled as we resolve two hurdles. Please know that our team is usually quite good at resolving big and small hurdles. Ok, here's what's happening:
1. The "refurbished equipment" challenge: The equipment that Assist International is sending for the Birthing Center is refurbished equipment and whether it arrives first through the Amman airport or first through the Ben Gurion Airport, it must go through Israeli customs before entry is allowed into the West Bank. From what we are hearing, Israeli Customs does not allow entry of any refurbished medical equipment. The NGO with lots of experience whom we asked for help declined to assist us, saying that it is a BIG challenge to get special approval.
Now for the hopeful next steps:
A. About 8 years ago, Assist International has brought and installed refurbished equipment in the Daniel Pearl Hospital in Israel. They are exploring customs approval via their connections; and
B. There is a shipping approval group affiliated with the King of Jordan who has asked to help facilitate;
2. The personnel challenge: Our birthing center program includes equipment and training but does not include personnel. At the time we wrote the proposal in 2008 (yes, that long ago. A lot of work has gone into this project), Al Aqaba Village anticipated it would be easy for the Ministry of Health to ramp-up personnel at their Al Amal Clinic. Now lack of funds to the Palestinian government (the U.S. Congress stopped U.S. funding as punnishment for their vote for recognition before the U.N., and the Israeli government stopped transfer of taxes collected) means that they have not met payroll for over 4 months. Even the Ministry of Health itself has contracted to working only 1 day per week.
Birthing Centers are usually 24/7 so we must find a grant to fund staff at the Al Amal Clinic. We're in touch with Dr. Moustafa Barghouti's group, the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, to identify staff. Because British Consul originally built the Al Amal Clinic, we will ask the British Consul for a grant to fund Birthing Center personnel.
So, that's where we stand right now. I'll keep you posted as these matter resolve. Thank you again for your support and your patience. This is a project that matters and I look forward to arranging the next steps (scheduling the training visit with the new staff and scheduling a tour for all the donors) as soon as we know how and when we will get the equipment in.