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Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

This year's NYC Gaza 5K was described by participants as 'the most lit 5K' they have ever run. In addition to this absolutely flattering -- in a truly millennial sense -- comment, the UNRWA USA team has received such wonderful feedback from the event and we are so grateful.

But ultimately, beyond the run, dabke, and logistics on our end, the success of the event was a reflection of the amazing New York community that came together to support the children of Gaza, raising more than $355,000 for mental health services and UNRWA programming.

One such group of participants was the members of Team Warek Dawali. They not only made this event an important enriching, communal experience but also had four team members to medal in the race! Their team was passionate and energetic, collectively raising $6,447.13 -- surpassing their fundraising goal by nearly $500. 

Here are some words, shared by Hanan Farraj, a member of Team Warek Dawali, while reflecting on the race: 

I just want to thank your organization for putting it together for such an amazing cause. Yesterday was my first ever 5K! It was such a fun experience and wonderful that I could share it with my sons! Our team, Warek Dawali, was made up of family and friends. It was a great bonding experience! We really had a great time! We had four of our team members who placed in top times! My son, Izzeldeen Farraj, came in third overall! He’s going to college this fall and was excited to do one of his last races before going away with his family. Again, thank you so much for all you do for the Palestinian people! See you next year InshAllah!
— Hanan Farraj
Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

We are honored and humbled by these words of kindness and the generosity of the New York community. A huge thank you to the Farraj family, team Warek Dawali, and all the other incredible teams that moved for mental health with us in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday March 24. Stay tuned for future race dates and other UNRWA USA activities in your community!

  Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: team hi guys

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: team hi guys

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team fundraising for the kids in Gaza?

[Team Hi Guys]: To share why we are fundraising, we need to go back to the story of our family, our connection to UNRWA, and how this race -- even up to the name of our team -- is a testament to my father, Ziad. This is our story. 

Have you ever imagined Super Mario without his mustache, hopping off the stacks of cinder-blocks arranged into buildings, banging on corrugated tin roofs with a tightly wrapped sandwich in his left fist and a stick in his right? That's Ziad at 7 years old. Except maybe he had a mustache then, too.

Ziad is our dad -- or Ammo Ziad (Uncle Ziad) to you! 

His family was exiled from Palestine, and so our dad was born in Lebanon. But try as you might, you'd never find a paper from Lebanese authorities claiming that little baby with milk in his mustache as their own. In exile, in his camp of birth, you know who claimed him? UNRWA. 

UNRWA is a vital lifeline for over 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Refugees unto their fourth or fifth generation depend on UNRWA for their life and livelihood. Many are stateless and depend on UNRWA for the services a state would provide: school, health, job support, vocational training, and public services.

More than 70% of Gaza's residents -- 1.4 million people -- are Palestine refugees. UNRWA serves all of these people, more than half of them kids, little Ziads. 261 schools, 271,900 students, and hundreds of health clinics, providing vital life- and mind-saving services in the face of aggression, oppression, and brutal occupation.

So when President Trump withheld $300 million from UNRWA's operating budget, it directly affected this generation of Ziads. 

In true Ammo Ziad fashion, he responded to this decision with cheek and self-assurance, and said exactly what we'd expect: Hi, guys.

[UNRWA USA]: Why is mental health an important issue to your team?

[Team Hi Guys]: Camps like Ziad's haven't disappeared. They've only grown. They're still in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan, the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip too. And while Ziad may have gotten out of the camps where he grew up, there are so many little Ziads running around the camps, catching pigeons and torturing their teachers.

And in Gaza, those kids are also dealing with the aftermath of regular Israeli military assaults -- not just because almost 70% of Gaza's population are refugees, but because Israel's frequent assaults on Gaza have imposed a serious impact on kids who wet their beds in fear, kids whose classmates have disappeared, kids who live with ongoing PTSD, which makes getting by day to day a reality that you and I probably can't comprehend. 

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have a message you'd like to share with your fundraising competitors?

[Team Hi Guys]: Eat our dust, guys.

Music in Time of War: female entrepreneur found music school and helps children forget about the war in Syria

Music in Time of War: female entrepreneur found music school and helps children forget about the war in Syria

Manar al-Sha’ar knows how to turn a tough situation into an opportunity. After being swindled while trying to flee the war in Syria, she decided to build a future within the country. "I refused to give up and decided to establish my business again," she says. That resolve paid off. Her music school, Al Manara, is a thriving success, and the children’s choir she has founded has won accolades not just within Syria, but across the Arab world.

After completing her musical studies at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus, she returned to her hometown of Sweida. In 2010, she started a music school from her living room, teaching instruments she owned like traditional oud, violin, and the electronic keyboard.

Business was going well, but the war started to engulf the country. Manar and her husband decided to try to leave Syria. However, things did not go as planned. They were blackmailed and lost a large sum of money. And so Manar decided to double down on their future in the country.

In 2014, she approached UNRWA for a microloan to buy a piano. She now has 70 students, who learn everything from reading music and singing to how to play the traditional oud or guitar.

Manar also started a children’s choir, the Lighthouse Choir, as a way to give children an escape from the violence around them. Every Monday, dozens of children and youngsters gather around to practice a musical repertoire that ranges from Arab classics to American pop. “The group is now the most famous choir in the southern province,” she says proudly. They have performed on local television and sung on stage at the Opera house in Damascus, the country’s most prestigious musical venue. In the future, she dreams of taking them to perform on an international stage.

Manar is not resting on her laurels. She keeps expanding and updating her business. Most recently, she received a loan of 250.000 SYP ($1,160 USD) to continue to grow. She bought a new oud and sound-proofed and painted the walls of her music school.

The loan is part of a microfinance scheme run with the generous support of the European Union. Manar is just one of more than 3,500 recipients of micro-loans, thanks to a $1 million grant from the EU. Over 35% of the loans issued in Syria have gone to female entrepreneurs.

Starting her business has allowed Manar to support her family. It has also given hope to a new generation of children through music. “I am proud of this generation that challenges the war and instead chooses to fight against ignorance and backwardness,” she says. In their turn, the children have taught her to persevere, despite the odds. “They are the greatest lesson and have provided me with the greatest wisdom of my life.”

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine

The NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine is a team of 19 future lawyers and leaders. Many team members are back again this year after multiple years of participating in the event and passionately care about Palestine refugees, the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip, and access to mental health services. Here are their words on what motivates them to move for mental health: 

NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine team members (in no particular order): Gerardo (Captain), Marwa, Ana, Cassarah, Hira, Rachel, Heather, Maya, Anil, Antoinette, Astrid, Eddie, Nora S., Robert, Dinesh, David, Gabriella, Nia, Nora C., and Selene. 

NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine team members (in no particular order): Gerardo (Captain), Marwa, Ana, Cassarah, Hira, Rachel, Heather, Maya, Anil, Antoinette, Astrid, Eddie, Nora S., Robert, Dinesh, David, Gabriella, Nia, Nora C., and Selene. 

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team fundraising for the kids in Gaza?

[NYU Law Students]: Today, after a ten-year blockade and three wars with Israel, Gaza’s population of 2 million are living on four hours of electricity a day. 46% of the population is unemployed, a number that rises to 64% among residents under 25. Gaza’s water, sewage, health and electricity systems are near complete collapse. In “the world’s largest open-air prison,” over half of the residents of Gaza are children. As individuals living in peace and relative prosperity, we can only try to grasp the effects of such a situation on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children. To live, the population of Gaza, and its children, in particular, must depend on UNRWA. 

[President] Trump’s decision to cut nearly $300 million in US funding to UNRWA at this critical moment amounts to a decision to hold the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ransom. Using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip is a stance our team finds abhorrent. We are fundraising against desperation and deprivation; first, to show our continuing support and admiration for the residents of Gaza, and second, to act against the latest of an endless series of injustices committed upon the Palestinians during the past 70 years of occupation.

[UNRWA USA]: Why is mental health an important issue to you and the rest of your team?

[NYU Law Students]: There are no words to describe the emotional burden that comes with living in a war zone—constant uncertainty, constant terror. It is crucial that Palestinian children receive mental health services in order to cope with current stresses and obtain some semblance of normality. This will enable them to maintain a path forward to realizing their potential and the potential of their community.

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have a message you'd like to share with your fundraising competitors? 

[NYU Law Students]: Thank you for fundraising and we'll see you at the race! 

We are fundraising against desperation and deprivation; first, to show our continuing support and admiration for the residents of Gaza, and second, to act against the latest of an endless series of injustices committed upon the Palestinians during the past 70 years of occupation.
— Team NYU Law Students for Justice in Palestine

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Olive Gaza

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Olive Gaza

This isn't the first time Team Olive Gaza has run and fundraised for the NYC Gaza 5K, so what brings them back every year? UNRWA USA spoke to team member Yasmin Elachi who enthusiastically gave us her family's unique, heartwarming, and intimate connection with Gaza and UNRWA's work. 

Members of Team Olive Gaza (in no particular order): Khalid (captain), Yasmin, Dalia, Fatena, Dina

Members of Team Olive Gaza (in no particular order): Khalid (captain), Yasmin, Dalia, Fatena, Dina

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team fundraising for the kids in Gaza?

[Yasmin Elachi]: We're fundraising because many of us are first-generation Americans of Palestinian, and specifically Gazan descent. We're reminded every day that our parents and family struggled growing up as children in Gaza. We're doing it especially for our mom's family, who are refugees from Yaffa (1948). Hearing about their childhood and our mom's stories about how as a child, she recalled the UNRWA food rations her family would collect weekly really became ingrained in our identities.

[UNRWA USA]: Why is mental health is an important issue to you and the rest of your team?

[Yasmin Elachi]: Many people struggle with mental health -- for a long time, and still for many, it is a taboo issue. Now more than ever, we recognize how someone's mental health can lead to a downward spiral physically, mentally, and emotionally for not only the person struggling with mental health but those around them as well. If we can help children navigate, or at least provide some of the tools, at an early age, we believe it will have an everlasting positive impact on that child's future. 

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have a message you'd like to share with your fundraising competitors?

[Yasmin Elachi]: InshAllah you beat us so UNRWA can reach way beyond their goal. :) 

What makes this meaningful is the world is its own global community. We all need to help each other regardless of ethnic background, religion. At the end of the day, the priority should be humanity — giving the children of Gaza a fighting opportunity to feel as they are equals and not less than any other human. We come back every year because we believe in the global community — we believe in humanity and that everyone, including the children of Gaza, deserves to be treated and shown that they too are part of this global community.
— Yasmin Elachi, member of Team Olive Gaza

Interview with Scott Anderson- UNRWA's Director of Operations in the West Bank

Interview with Scott Anderson- UNRWA's Director of Operations in the West Bank

FEATURED NEWS

In a recent PBS interview, John Yang sat down with Scott Anderson to discuss the US administration's decision to cut UNRWA funding. 

You can help fund UNRWA. Donate here.

To learn more about Scott, below is an exclusive UNRWA USA interview from October 2017.


[D]espite living under occupation for the last 50 years, Palestine refugees are just like you and me. They want peace and stability. They want their children to be educated and successful. And they want jobs and possibilities.
— Scott Anderson

How did you first get involved with UNRWA? What does your current role entail?

My first real interaction with the Israel-Palestine conflict was as a senior in high school. I needed one additional social studies credit to graduate and my teacher, Wanda Phillips, assigned me to write a paper on the conflict with possible solutions. After my retirement from the Army in 2007, I saw a position in the Gaza Field office with UNRWA and applied.

I am currently the Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank Field. As the Field Director I oversee field operations. It is a busy job, but the real heroes are our nearly 5000 staff on the ground. They are the ones who makes sure that assistance and protection is provided every day to those in need.

There are approximately 780,000 registered refugees in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. UNRWA provides a wide range of services to refugees most in need. Our services encompass everything from education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. In the West Bank, UNRWA provides basic education to almost 50,000 students each year in our 96 schools. And in our 42 health centers, we do nearly 1.3 million patient visits a year.

How has your work with UNRWA shaped you?

UNRWA has provided me a perspective on humanity few others will ever experience. I’ve seen the best and worst of humanity while working in UNRWA. I’ve seen compassion, devotion to a higher cause, survival, overcoming very difficult challenges to help their community, despite facing death, terrorism and, sadly, hatred. However, it has been the positive inter-personal experiences through working with UNRWA that have given me hope that peace is still possible and obtainable.

To me the coolest thing about UNRWA is our impact: Every day, across our five fields of operations, we provide humanitarian assistance and protection to 5 million Palestine refugees.
— Scott Anderson

What do you think other Americans should know about Palestine refugees and how would you recommend them getting involved?

Every day, Palestine refugees in the West Bank face tremendous challenges related to the occupation: armed violence, military incursions into refugee camps, detentions, settlement expansion, restrictions on access and movement, forced displacement, and demolitions of homes. These are just some of the protection challenges affecting the daily lives of Palestine refugees. But despite living under occupation for the last 50 years, Palestine refugees are just like you and me. They want peace and stability. They want their children to be educated and successful. And they want jobs and possibilities.

There are plenty of ways to get involved:

  • You can be an advocate for UNRWA and Palestine refugees in your own community. Tell others about the challenges facing Palestine refugees and make them care!
  • You can support UNRWA USA by attending their various events as participant or as a volunteer.
  • And of course, you can make a donation to UNRWA and encourage others to do the same.
Scott enjoying a day in the classroom with some UNRWA students

Scott enjoying a day in the classroom with some UNRWA students

Can you share a story with us of a Palestine refugee who inspires you?

During my years with UNRWA, I have met a lot of inspiring Palestinians – both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Our Palestinian staff who work hard everyday to provide services to their fellow-Palestinians are among these inspiring people. The same can be said about the students in our schools. Despite living a life under occupation, they are all dedicated to learn, grow, develop and become strong representatives of Palestine.

One recent example is Amal Shawabka. I met Amal when I had just joined UNRWA in the West Bank Field last year and when she was still attending the UNRWA Fawwar Girls School. Amal grew up in Fawwar refugee camp, which is the southernmost camp in the West Bank. The camp is faced by high levels of unemployment and poverty. The camp and its residents regularly experience Israeli military incursions, camp closures and clashes. To most of us, growing up in such a difficult place would significantly limit our ability to study and learn. But not Amal.

Amal was the winner of the 2016 Palestinian Sciences and Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP). As the STEP winner, she travelled to the United States to present her project “No Sliding on Roads”--a pioneering formula to prevent skidding on roads and improve road safety.

To me, Amal is a living testament of the potential of the Palestine refugee youth and the dedication of UNRWA teachers in building the base of their future.

Email us! Tell us why you care about supporting Palestine refugees. Do you have a story to share? We'd like to know! 

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Other recent interviews with Scott Anderson:

Ibtissam's message to the US administration: "Think of the children and their future"

Ibtissam's message to the US administration: "Think of the children and their future"

UNRWA is not a political thing — it’s helping the refugees, the children, the women, through health care, through schooling, through everything.
— Ibtissam Rizkallah of North Carolina, on what UNRWA means to her

Ibtissam Rizkallah was born in Shefa Amr, a city east of Haifa in 1944. At the age of 4, the Nakba began. Ibtissam and her family were forced to flee to Lebanon. Like many Palestinian families, at the time, they saw this as a temporary way to escape conflict and insecurity -- and thought they would remain in Lebanon for just a few months until it was safe to return home. And like many Palestinian families, this sadly did not turn out to be the case.

Ibtissam’s family -- at the time consisting of her three brothers and sisters, her father, and her mother, who was expecting another child --  took their one car and rented a house in Kafr Shima, Lebanon. A few months passed and they realized going home was not a reality in sight. Her father had to sell their car to make ends meet. They relocated to northern Lebanon, where her mother had some family, but moved from one house to the next due to financial difficulties.

Prior to 1948, Ibtissam’s father and uncle owned a small taxi company in Palestine where they shuttled people from Shefa Amr to Haifa. Due to the labor laws in Lebanon, Ibtissam’s father, as a Palestinian, could not continue his taxi business. He did, however, find employment through the newly established UNRWA, where he worked as a truck driver, transporting flour and foodstuffs to various refugee camps in Lebanon.

Her father was not the only one who looked to UNRWA as a pillar of support during a tumultuous time. Ibtissam credits most of her family’s education to UNRWA. Living in Ashrafiyeh in eastern Beirut, Ibtissam and her siblings went to a school run by nuns, where UNRWA funded their tuition. Every one of Ibtissam’s sisters received higher education through UNRWA, whether that was through an UNRWA scholarship at the American University of Beirut or through typing and secretarial courses held at the local YMCA.

Ibtissam, graduating from the Gaza Baptist School of Nursing in 1962

Ibtissam, graduating from the Gaza Baptist School of Nursing in 1962

While her father was working as an UNRWA driver, a Swedish woman named Ms. Kanstron, who was responsible for UNRWA’s education programming at the time, mentioned a reputable nursing program in Gaza, strongly encouraging him to consider enrolling one of his children in the program. When Ibtissam’s father approached Ibtissam’s older sister about it, Ibtissam asserted that if her sister was going to enroll in the program, she wanted to do so, as well. So, in the fall of 1959, the two sisters went to Gaza to begin their three-year training at the Gaza Baptist School of Nursing.

UNRWA provided them with a small stipend to supplement their tuition, and they were able to study without worrying about their finances.

With some sadness in her voice, Ibtissam says, "Gaza was different back then. The Gazan people were more safe and they did not have the same brutal travel restrictions that they do today. I feel for those people. They have a special place in my heart, and it’s difficult to see their conditions today."

Reflecting on her own experiences with UNRWA in the context of the current politicization of refugee rights, she says, "UNRWA is not a political thing -- it's helping the refugees, the children, the women, through health care, through schooling, through everything."

Ibtissam, her children, and grandchildren visiting Ramallah, Palestine in 2014

Ibtissam, her children, and grandchildren visiting Ramallah, Palestine in 2014

It was thanks to her nursing certificate from the program in Gaza that she was able to pursue a career in nursing in the US. Ibtissam married a fellow Palestinian, originally from Ramallah, living in the US. She left Beirut and traveled to live with him in Maryland in December 1967. When she came to the US, she initially chose to take care of the four young children they had together as opposed to working. Once her youngest son turned 5, she learned that in order to work as a nurse in the States all she needed to do was pass an American test and she'd be certified to practice in the US. So that's what she did and Ibtissam started working part-time in 1984. As a busy working mother, she would work evenings so that she could spend time with her family during the day.

When her husband passed in 1993, Ibtissam had to work full time to support her family. She credits her UNRWA degree to allowing her to support herself and her children in the absence of her husband’s salary and helping her land her first job in the US.

Ibtissam feels grateful for the role UNRWA played in her life -- that despite the heart-wrenching circumstances of being ripped away from her homeland, she and her family had a support system that they could lean on to reach their full potential outside of Palestine.

In response to the US' unprecdented decision to cut funding to UNRWA by 83%, she asserts:

When they [the US Administration] withhold money, they need to think of the children and their future. UNRWA does a lot of good for a lot of people, and I know so many people who got their higher education through UNRWA. Right now, it’s essential to make sure kids are educated to give them hope for the future.

Ruth and MaryAnn: the story of how two Ohioans got involved in UNRWA's work selling Canaan Fair Trade olive oil

Ruth and MaryAnn: the story of how two Ohioans got involved in UNRWA's work selling Canaan Fair Trade olive oil

Ruth and MaryAnn, dear friends and partners for Palestine

Ruth and MaryAnn, dear friends and partners for Palestine

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.
— Ruth Tracy

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."

Christmas shopping display at 'Beit Tracy' ( beit  is the Arabic word for house)

Christmas shopping display at 'Beit Tracy' (beit is the Arabic word for house)

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: 

I visited so many refugee camps, and UNRWA’s presence — including schools and medical care — really helped people survive. One of the most interesting things I noticed was the effort that UNRWA puts into helping people remember their culture. So much energy is spent erasing that cultural memory, and UNRWA has made a huge contribution to preserving it.

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:

Palestinian refugees have the same aspirations for a positive future as we all do and the occupation is the most egregious long-lasting attack on human rights that we know of, keeping Palestinians hampered in every way with no end in sight. Without UNRWA and its housing, education, job development, health and emergency relief programs, Palestinians would indeed be lost. Improving the futures of Palestinians is UNRWA’s true mission and should be widely supported.

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.

Mind over Mountain: A Palestinian American Educator's Ongoing Journey to Support Trauma-Affected Youth

Mind over Mountain: A Palestinian American Educator's Ongoing Journey to Support Trauma-Affected Youth

As a certified teacher and a Palestinian American, I am passionate about improving the lives of afflicted Palestinians currently living in conflict areas. I truly believe that today’s children are our future’s change makers.

This week, while most of us are reaching for our stretchy pants, preparing ourselves for a large Thanksgiving meal, UNRWA USA supporter Haneen Sakakini will be packing her hiking pants in preparation to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. Apart from being an avid hiker, Haneen is a Palestinian American educator, with specific expertise in the impact that childhood trauma has on the well-being of children and their education. In combining these two sides of herself, she plans on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro as a way to fundraise and raise awareness for UNRWA's Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) in the Gaza Strip, and she's calling it Mind Over Mountain. 

So what brings this young Palestinian American woman to the roof of Africa?

Haneen has always loved being outside -- it was a habit that her parents instilled in her through frequent hiking and camping trips growing up. During her two years living in Palestine (2012-2014) teaching at the Ramallah Friends School, she and a group of friends went on regular hiking trips. Most Friday's, they'd select a path in Jericho, pack their bags, eat their fill of manaeesh, and start their journey for the day. Haneen comments on hiking as a therapeutic process: "There is something about being outside in nature that just brings happiness and a sense of serenity, even with all the things happening around you and across the world."

Haneen is always up for a challenge, and Mt. Kilimanjaro has been on her bucket list for some time. She says that "it has always been that mountain in the distance that sparked a sense of curiosity for me." When she was given the option to join her company’s Kilimanjaro trek, she jumped at the opportunity.

Why the Mind Over Mountain fundraising campaign?

As part of the trek, each Kilimanjaro climber is required to fundraise for a cause meaningful to them. Beyond the requirement, Haneen sees this climb as a perfect opportunity to give back and raise awareness about a topic that is very close to her heart.

I wanted to give my self something to work for, I didn’t want to simply climb Kilimanjaro for my own personal gain, but I wanted to use it as a way to push myself in order to help others, others whose voices seem to get muffled due to the continuously evolving world we live in today.

When she learned about the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP), she says the decision to fundraise for it was a "no-brainer." She saw dedicating her campaign to this essential program as a way to mitigate some of the psychological impacts of war and occupation on Palestine refugee children.

Manaeesh-fueled hiking in Jericho

Manaeesh-fueled hiking in Jericho

While teaching in Palestine, Haneen points to a single experience as “the turning point” in her professional and personal pursuits. In the summer of 2014, a young 16-year-old boy from Ramallah was shot in the back and killed by Israeli military in the West Bank. This was the same summer as the Israeli military assault on Gaza which lasted 50 days and killed more than 500 children. Haneen recognized that the loss of this young boy represented just one of many incidents of violence towards Palestinians and that violence has integrated itself into every aspect of the Palestinian experience. And this violence is one that has spanned decades, traumatizing generations upon generations of Palestinians, especially refugees, in a profound way.

She sees education, which includes counseling, as an entry point into addressing some of this trauma faced by Palestine refugees, and deeply believes in the goals of UNRWA's CMHP in Gaza. She hopes that in climbing this mountain, she will also raise awareness and funds for a cause that spoke deeply to her as a Palestinian American educator. 

Ultimately, Haneen hopes to get her Ph.D. and further delve into this issue and aims to use her research to support children across the globe -- not just Palestine -- in dealing with severe conflict-related and induced trauma. 

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Haneen will be embarking on her big journey before you finish all your leftover turkey. And as a final note to the Palestine refugee children she hopes benefit from the Community Mental Health Programme, Haneen wishes to share the following message:

"Always remember that your brain fueled by your education is the most powerful tool in the world. Continue to shoot for the stars, never lose hope, and know that people around the world love you, support you, and hear you."

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Catching up with UNRWA alum, UN Director, and runner Maher Nasser

Catching up with UNRWA alum, UN Director, and runner Maher Nasser

Maher fist bumps with former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; typical day at the office.

Maher fist bumps with former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; typical day at the office.

Gaza and UNRWA have played an important role in my life and in bringing me to where I am today.

Meet Maher Nasser.

Born in Ramallah, Maher and his family are from a village called Muzeir'ah near Lydda. 

A jack of all trades, Maher has spent the past 30 years being a humanitarian working for the United Nations, three years running the NYC Marathon fundraising for UNRWA scholarships for women in Gaza and the West Bank, and a lifetime giving back to his community.  

His connections with UNRWA's work run deep, and he spent some time sharing with us how UNRWA's work and services has shaped him and his family and how he has continued to give back, never forgetting his roots, no matter how far away from Palestine he travels.  

His father worked for UNRWA and he along with his three brothers went to UNRWA schools from grades 1-9. While at the Ramallah Boys Preparatory School, he fondly recalls his favorite teacher, Abdul Aziz. He remembers sitting in his English class, excited by the prospect of learning a new language. After graduating, he then went on to study civil engineering at Birzeit University with a partial scholarship from UNRWA. His sister and younger brother also received higher education through UNRWA, and attended a two-year vocational school run by the Agency.

In 1992, he left Ramallah when he was offered an international position with the United Nations Drugs Control Programme in Vienna. He confesses that surprisingly the biggest shock when he left Ramallah wasn't the food, culture, or customs, but rather, the freedom from foreign military occupation.

Since his first stint abroad, Maher has lived and worked around the globe. He has held positions in Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, Cairo, and New York, including a role as the Chief of the New York Liaison Office for UNRWA.

When Maher isn't at the UN, he spends his time running through the streets of New York City. Maher uses running as not only away to burn off the stress of trying to solve international diplomatic problems, but also as a way to raise awareness and funds for various causes, including UNRWA.

When asked why he fundraises for Palestine refugees, Maher says, "Gaza and UNRWA have played an important role in my life and in bringing me to where I am today. The images of suffering and pain in Gaza, and the heroic efforts of UNRWA staff to alleviate that suffering have prompted me to do something concrete to help out. There are immediate humanitarian needs and a great thirst for hope and compassion. With my modest effort, I hope to contribute a bit of hope and some resources to an Agency that I know can deliver effectively." 

In 2014, Nasser participated in the Women's Health "Run 10 Feed 10" and raised over $5,000 for UNRWA’s Gaza emergency appeal through UNRWA USA.

Since 2015, Maher has also run the NYC Marathon to fundraise for education programming for women in the West Bank and Gaza.

Maher states that he "never thought [he] would ever be able to run a marathon, let alone three. However, knowing that this would give one or more young women in Palestine an opportunity to attend university and change their lives has given [him] the energy and determination to do so."

Maher will be running this Sunday November 5th, and we're excited to cheer him on! Tweet your support @MaherNasserUN.

Maher training for the NYC Marathon

Maher training for the NYC Marathon

Tweets from Maher