Ruth Tracy and MaryAnn Kerr are the kind of old friends that finish each other's sentences. When speaking to them, you get the sense they are of one mind -- equally driven and focused. Their energy and enthusiasm are that of someone a third of their age. They radiate positivity and passion. And one thing they're both passionate about -- the thing that brought them together -- is the situation of Palestine refugees.
This is their story.
Ruth first heard about UNRWA and its work while living in Beirut, Lebanon in 1967. She volunteered with an American women's organization raising funds for women's centers in the camps, specifically in Ein El Hillweh camp near Sidon.
Fast forward several years -- Ruth wanted to maintain her connection with Palestine while living in the States and came across various organizations selling Palestinian products abroad. One of these was Canaan Fair Trade. After initially just ordering from Canaan, Ruth began to sell their olive oils to friends, family, and at the local farmer’s market. As to not compete with any other sellers, but rather work with them, Ruth asked the Canaan Fair Trade team if there was anyone else selling their products in the Cleveland area. They immediately mentioned a woman named MaryAnn Kerr. At the same time, Ruth was considering going on an Interfaith Peace Builder's (IFPB) delegation trip to Palestine and wished to connect with someone who had already gone on the trip. IFPB also pointed her to the very same person -- MaryAnn Kerr.
It felt like no small coincidence that MaryAnn’s name came up twice in such a short time, so Ruth gave MaryAnn a call, they agreed to meet at a Turkish restaurant, and the rest is history!
This was the first of many meetings and coincidences in their longstanding and growing relationship. Quickly, they realized that MaryAnn's husband and Ruth's former husband attended school together in Beirut. These connections made the world feel small, and they wanted to make it even smaller by creating a stronger connection between Palestine and Ohio.
Ultimately, with the encouragement from MaryAnn, Ruth made a trip to Palestine during the annual olive harvest and met the folks at Canaan Fair Trade. She said upon meeting them, she instantly felt a lightbulb go off and knew she chose the right way to place her efforts to bring greater awareness of the situation of Palestinians to the average American back home. Inspired, Ruth has been selling Palestinian olive oil in her home state of Ohio through Canaan's interfaith program in the US ever since.
Olives, olive oil, and the olive harvest are all synonymous with Palestinian identity, so it is no surprise that MaryAnn and Ruth saw this as a powerful way to connect people to something complex and longstanding (the situation of Palestine refugees) via something simple, delicious, and accessible to the average American (olive oil).
All the while, through their sales they've supported Palestinian farmers, and organizations they care deeply about -- Interfaith Peace Builders, Canaan Fair Trade, and UNRWA USA.
Ruth comments that "selling Palestinian olive oil is a great opportunity to spread the word about Palestine and speak to customers one on one about UNRWA’s work [...] many people don’t know about [UNRWA's] history and impact in Gaza and Syria."
Beginning in 2008, Ruth and MaryAnn worked together to share the proceeds from olive oil sales with UNRWA USA and two other nonprofits working in Palestine. In 2012, they formalized their relationship with UNRWA USA so that 20% of their sales would go directly towards UNRWA programming.
When probed on why a mid-western American like herself is so passionate about UNRWA’s work and how she became aware of it in the first place, MaryAnn confidently asserts:
Though still dedicated to issues of social justice, in 2015, after years of enthusiastic volunteering, MaryAnn retired to spend more time with her granddaughter. Though she does not sell olive oil alongside Ruth anymore, they continue to be close friends, and she still continues to promote peace through her work with IFPB, among other organizations that work on the issue of Palestine.
Ruth continues to sell Canaan Fair Trade olive oil at the seasonal fair trade market and speaks as passionately as MaryAnn about UNRWA's work. She wants the broader American public to know:
Check out the Ohio Fair Trade schedule to see when Ruth may be selling Canaan products near you. Please note, the last event of the holiday season is the Women Speak Out Annual Peace Festival and Bazaar at Pilgrim Church, 2582 W. 14th Street, in Cleveland on Saturday, December 9, 2017.
If you cannot make the event, anyone living in the Cleveland who wishes to order Canaan products from Ruth, delivered right to your door, can do so by calling (216) 408-6297.
If you live outside Ohio, you can buy your own Canaan Fair Trade products online and 10% of your purchase will be donated to UNRWA USA.