I have some exciting news to share. I would like introduce you to Ian Leech, our third teacher in our Teaching in Village Under Demolition Orders program. Ian grew up in Middlefield, a working class community in Connecticut. After receiving a BA in cultural Anthropology from the University of Oregon, Ian participated in two study abroad programs, one Queretaro, Mexico and another Rosario, Argentina.
Ian heard about Rebuilding Alliance’s English teaching program through a friend, who was living in Ramallah, that had met Al Aqaba Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq. When Ian came to Palestine looking for volunteer work, his friend brought him to the village to meet the mayor.
Here is Ian’s description of the children and families of Al Aqaba:
"After spending time living and teach in Al Aqaba, I have come to understand how much the villagers are truly wonderful people. I'm amazed by how welcoming and friendly they are. They really have done their absolute best to make me feel at home, and they have provided me with anything that I could possibly need and more. Since I don't speak Arabic it has been difficult to talk to many of the villagers. However I have made friendships with a few people who I will go for walks with or have tea with. Most of the people in the village know who I am now so it's very difficult to walk through the town without getting called over to every house that sees me walking for tea or coffee.
The children are great as well. They try to engage me as much as possible and love talking and joking around with me in between classes. Often when they have recess we will play basketball or soccer, which they love. There are a few children that stand out for me because they learn quickly and are not very shy, especially in the kindergarten. I can see who will be more likely to learn and use English in the future, and I know it excites them to learn from a native speaker.
My favorite class is the kindergarten. Although the kids can be difficult to control at times, they learn quickly and are very inspiring. They are interested in your culture and so they want to talk. If they find that you will only speak English with them they will try as hard as possible to communicate. This gives them valuable conversation practice that they may otherwise not get. Also being exposed to people from other cultures is very useful for the children, especially in a small village. It allows them to see the world in a different light and helps to open up their mind a bit to different cultures and ideas.
The biggest benefit for me has been in becoming a part of everyday life in Al Aqaba. The people here are incredibly endearing and it makes me happy to know them and to spend time with them. Being around people this wonderful makes you a better person just for knowing them. They can truly teach you how to be a good person, how to live for friends, family and community."
Ian also was present when the Israeli Army recently demolished the Peace Road, connecting Al Aqaba Village with the Jordan Valley. He was an eye-witness to what had occurred during the demolition. He was deeply troubled by the event and offered us his personal perspective of the event as guest teacher in the village:
"I was actually in a class and was called out by one of the men in the town. He told me to go to my house and grab my camera. I had no idea there was a bulldozer coming up the road. So I ran, grabbed the camera, and was led down to to a viewpoint where I could see two jeeps and a bulldozer coming slowly up the road. My first thought was that they were coming for houses. Some of the guys and I started speculating about which house would get demolished and I was trying to plan out in my head what to do about it. Just the sight of the bulldozer brings many horrible thoughts to mind.
I had spent the previous weeks eating lunch and drinking tea with these people. Not to mention days teaching English and playing football with the kids. So when I saw that they had not come for houses it was a small relief. Seeing a road get demolished for no reason is also a very frustrating experience, especially when you are getting ordered around by soldiers with automatic weapons for just watching this happen. The villagers seemed to take it well, although they were clearly upset and distraught. After all they demolished roads, not houses. There were many questions directed at me about the west and what do people in my country think about such demolitions. I had to tell them honestly people don't think about them, and even if they knew they might brush it off. It was a sad and frustrating day. Definitely one that I wont forget anytime soon."
Here at Rebuilding Alliance, we're spending quite a bit of time thinking about how to mobilize all our donors and networks to respond as early as possible before bulldozers come, and also when they come. We'll ask you to call your Senators and Representatives and are looking forward to releasing some exciting new advocacy tools to make this easy for you. The road demolition was particularly frustrating because there was no demolition order posted in advance -- no early warning possible. Thankfully, homes were not demolished; No new demolition orders were posted.
Ian Leech will be teaching English in Al Aqaba through the end of May. He will also be helping install a set of early warning cameras in the village and on the outskirts to help us react quickly, worldwide, if bulldozers are approaching. Let's hope the world recognizes Al Aqaba's right to exist and this village's right to issue building permits soon.
In closing, I’m proud to let everyone know that, along with Kali and Morgan,we have been fortunate to have another wonderful volunteer teacher as part of our "Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders" program. All of this is possible because you, our donors, are able to see the value of this program and how it benefits Al Aqaba village. I thank you again for your support.
Hope all is well! I have a lot to tell you. First and foremost, Morgan Bach, our second teacher in the village as part of this program, has been able to get her visa extended, so she will be staying in Al Aqaba Village for another three months. She recently wrote to us, saying that she is now working on the new village website and coordinating visits to the guest house. "Since I got here I've been assisting Haj Sami with correspondence, grant proposals, and English editing. I also blog, make videos, and send e-mails promoting the village."
Now the bad news: new demolition orders were issued against another 17 structures in Al Aqaba. Click here to watch Morgan Bach's remarkable video. Morgan, who lives on site in Al Aqaba. briefly interviewed the Israeli Civil Administrators who issued the new demolition orders then visited a family whose home was tagged. I've attached a copy of the most recent UN OCHA fact sheet describing the scale of this policy.
On a brighter side, while we urge people throughout the U.S. to call Congress, we are pleased to report that the U.N. Secretary General's office is responding! Staff of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Al Aqaba yesterday. Tomorrow as part of a tour of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, a large group will arrive in Al Aqaba — there's a good chance this visit will this include the U.N. Secretary General himself! Please follow the Secretary General’s website.
We will send you more updates soon. Thank you for supporting this project and the Village of Al Aqaba. Your support has made it possible to bring wonderful teachers like Morgan to Al Aqaba! We're now recruiting more teachers, so I promise to send you the job description and job application in my next message.
As always, please write to me or call if you have questions or suggestions.
Today may be our teacher's last day in Al Aqaba because her visa expires tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be renewed tomorrow and she will be back teaching on Thursday. In the meantime, I would like to properly introduce you to the second teacher you sent to Al Aqaba through this project. A graduate of Whitman College in race and ethnic studies (concentration in the Middle East), Morgan heard about our work when she was teaching in New Orleans as a volunteer with AmeriCorps. She had gone there to rebuild after the hurricane and got in touch because of her interest in rebuilding communities and the Middle East.
Please enjoy Morgan's one month reflection that she originally posted on her blog. Thank you as always for supporting this project. More to come soon.
I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity to be in Al Aqaba right now. One month ago, I was in my family’s home in Seattle, trying to fit my life into two suitcases and trust that everything would be alright. I was looking forward to the flight, to Amman, to the adventure that is traveling in the West Bank, but I was most looking forward to rolling my suitcases into my new home, the Al Aqaba Guest House.
It’s been a great month. I’m settled into the apartment, and finally settled into a routine. As soon as I kicked the jetlag, which afforded me several gorgeous sunsets and national anthems from the secondary school downstairs, I started to get up around 8:30. At 9, I lead two lessons in the kindergarten. We’re working on our ABC’s and recognizing letter sounds. The kids are also having fun with Total Physical Response-sit down! stand up! turn around! Next, I want to work on sounding out three-letter words, with some props and visuals. I need a stuffed cat. I’ve never taught little kids before, but it involves a lot of theatricality and enthusiasm, and you really get what you give. They pound on their little tables and shout loudly and try to respond to the in-between English instructions they don’t understand. I’ve gained a lot of respect for kindergarten teachers. I can’t speak yet with most of these women, but I see how close they are with the kids and I want to express my admiration. I think they can tell I’m new at this.
At 10 I teach the 9th and 10th grade boys. Past 4th grade, the girls of Al Aqaba attend school in Tayasir, so there’s a lot of boy energy in this secondary school. My students are, well, 14 and 15-year-old boys. They’re too cool for school, and my class falls in the middle of their morning break, which can be hectic. At least it’s an improvement from the original 7am arrangement. These guys are goofy and charming, much like my students in New Orleans, and they have a lot of enthusiasm that I can play off of, but it’s directed more at me as their portal to the outside world than it is for conversing in English. I want to say, “Conversing in English is your portal to the outside world!” Some of them just don’t want to speak at all, but even those who do have few opportunities to practice. But they want to see my pictures, videos, music, and be my Facebook friend. I think it’s great that I get to show them all these things, but the challenge is harnessing it into something they can use. Setting up the new English program to reach students earlier and coming up with creative, non-class opportunities to practice English is going to be key.
I teach an adult class at 5, and I have ten regular students. They’re students, lawyers, teachers, parents from Tubas and Tayasir and they’re all eager to improve their conversational skills. I make up a new lesson every day, based on language patterns I read or hear, or common mistakes I notice. Then at the end, I play a song that demonstrates that pattern. The atmosphere is getting more relaxed, and more of my students are comfortable holding casual conversations. They catch me up on the news, invite me places, and I know it’s in those conversations where they get the best practice. That, and it’s nice to have friends in the city.
As my routine becomes more solid, so do my relationships. The people who work for Al Aqaba have become my teachers and helpers. Othman and Amira and Tahrir who work in the office, Abu Saleh, the groundskeeper, Hisham, the driver, Mohammad and Hekmat, who run the sewing co-op, Mustafa, Haj Sami’s nephew, and of course, Haj Sami. I’ve learned so much from everyone, and the positive energy here is infectious.
Thank you so much for your past support of Rebuilding Alliance's workl We've used every dollar donated to remarkable results. I ask for your help once again.
In just a few hours time, GlobalGiving will match by 30% every dollar donated, up to $1000. They have $100,000 to give away in just 24hrs on Wednesday Oct. 19th, Eastern Time.
We need your help to rebuild Palestinian homes, schools, playgrounds, libraries. You are welcome to give to this ongoing project!
Please donate as early in the day as you can, before the funds run out.
Questions, suggestions? Please call me at 650-325-4663.
P.S. Your donation, large or small, really matters. GlobalGiving is providing a grant to the project with the most donors, and also a grant to the project that raises the most donations. We can do it... last time Rebuilding Alliance came in second. This time, help us to win!
P.P.S. One of our earlier GG Match projects helped create housing for teachers in Al Aqaba village. Here are photos of the Japanese teacher who came this past Sunday to give the children an overview of Japan!
I want to take this opportunity to thank you again for helping to support Teaching in a Village Under Demolition Orders through your generous donations and concern! I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that everyone in Al Aqaba really appreciated our first English teacher, Kali Rubaii; see Kali's report below with photos. Kali taught children, two groups of teens, and an adult group -- and her classes kept growing as her reputation spread! Even a group of bank tellers in the neighboring town of Tubas asked to attend English classes in Al Aqaba! Our second English teacher, Morgan Bach, just arrived in Al Aqaba last Thursday.
We wondered if Morgan would be able to arrive because early that morning, the Israeli Army closed Al Aqaba Village and demolished the home of three families, the Peace Road, a water cistern and one other road. This was the 2nd demolition of the Peace Road. We heard about it early and did our best to call the U.S. Embassy and Consulate, and the consulates of other countries, to ask their help to make this stop. Our board member, Souzan Jaber, was there waiting outside the village with the Governor of Tubas who was also barred from entry. When the soldiers left the village, the destruction along the Eastern side of town was clear to see. Heartbreaking.
Despite this, Kali's report describes the sense of hope that people of Al Aqaba, especially the young people, hold in their hearts. I know you share that determination.
Rudy San Miguel
This summer I taught English courses in Al Aqaba. I taught about 60 students: 20 girls ages 9-12, 20 young boys ages 14-16, and 20 adults (mostly University students and local farmers and shepherds) ages 18-50. For the younger students, we covered many topics, often using songs and dances to understand colors and numbers (The Very Hungry Caterpillar was perfect for this), or the parts of the human body (Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and Simona Says were big hits!). Eventually each student practiced leading the rest of the class in song. My favorite lesson for the children's classes was a week-long drawing exercise in which they drew their house or dream house and then labeled the parts of their drawing. Each student presented their house and some information about themselves to the whole class to practice public speaking. I was impressed by their vivid descriptions of beautifully designed homes, complete with flower vases, colorful roofs, and tree-filled yards. During the first lesson of the adult class, I asked students to tell me about their childhoods and was confronted with an urgent question from a young man in the back of the room, who later described himself as a poet: "I can tell you about my childhood, but what are your hopes and dreams, Miss?" I quickly learned that while one's childhood is certainly of importance, Al Aqaba's youth are more preoccupied with shaping their futures and realizing their dreams. After mastering the basics of the past preterit, imperfect, and past progressives tenses, we eagerly jumped into the future, subjunctive, and conditional tenses. We worked on detailed letters to American penpals at UCSC in California that describe the conditions of living under occupation as well as the hopes and dreams of each young man in the class. We drafted high quality English resumes in anticipation of those futures, delved into topics of refugeeness, longing, and land ownership, recited a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, and were lucky to have 2 American guests visit for a day of intensive conversational English practice. I had so much fun teaching English and learning Arabic from these intelligent, motivated young people. My biggest challenge with the students was the fact that as the summer progressed, my classes kept getting bigger and bigger, and it seemed I never had enough copies of handouts! We faced other challenges, as well, however: our conversations in class were often interrupted by the deafening sound of jets flying overhead the Israeli military training camp next door. My very first day in the village, an Israeli administrator arrived to photograph the newly re-paved road that had been demolished in May (the village mayor, Haj Sami, was visibly anxious about the potential for a second demolition). I was aware that at any moment the school, under demolition order like most of the buildings in the village, might be bulldozed: this reality naturally generated a sense of anxiety about the future. I was impressed by how defiantly students did not allow this to interfere with their English learning, their sense of humor, or their insistence on mastering the future tense both linguistically and in their lives. Inshalla, I will be back next summer to teach English and continue my fieldwork as an Anthropologist in Al Aqaba.
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