“The touch of the seashell as it sits on the palm of your hand” is what expressive arts specialist Khitam Idilbi wanted the 20 participating teachers inside a training hall in Tubas, West Bank to feel. “Feel it, smell it and look at its details,” says Khitam as she hands each teacher a seashell.

“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Some saw an entire sea, some saw their childhood, some saw shapes of animals, or a familiar face. Even after they exchanged seashells with their neighbor, each teacher saw each seashell in a different way.

“That’s the beauty of being part of a group,” concluded one the teachers. “Our different ideas and viewpoints enrich our collective experience.”

The teachers, ranging in age and background, came from different areas and preschools around Tubas to participate in ANERA’s teacher training course, funded by Dubai Cares as part of ANERA’s early childhood development program (ECD).

palestine teacher training expressive art teachers sitting around table

The teachers get ready for a day of learning with expressive arts specialist Khitam Idilbi.

Khitam Idilbi is among other trainers working in tandem with ECD trainer and coordinator Sulaima Abu El-Haj who covers core-curriculum topics. Khitam is an expressive arts councilor, trainer and therapist, with 25 years of experience in training.

teachers make clay models

Each teacher made a clay model of a place that is dear to their hearts, or one they dream of visiting.

The serenity of her session that day gradually evolved into a livelier atmosphere as the teachers took on the next task: using clay to mold a representation of a place dear to their hearts or one they dream of visiting. Each teacher built a different model and then explained to the others what it was and how it made her feel.

Tears streamed down a teacher’s face as she reminisced about her childhood home and how her mother’s warmth and love held the family together. Another explained how she would love to vanish to a remote island with her fiancé and just forget about the world. They all laughed and cried together, asked questions and enjoyed each other’s stories.

Teachers Get to Be Kids Again While Learning How to Engage Students

What made the day unique was the reading of a short story by Khitam’s friend who works in drama and education. Al Miller has 40 years experience as a teacher, clown, mime, director, playwright, actor and story teller who lives in the US state of Maine.

palestine teacher listening to story

A teacher listens intently to Al Millter’s animated storytelling.

Al was visiting the West Bank at the time of the session and was keen to join Khitam. “I mostly watched Khitam work and admired how well she interacts with everyone and how excited teachers get working with her,” explained Al.

Thanks to Al, the teachers got to see the story of the fox and the crow in a whole new light, this time from the perspective of the listener. Their eyes were fixated on Al as he brilliantly acted out the scenes and embodied each of the characters.

The session also included a lot of hands-on training. The teachers organized themselves into five groups and began painting a theme of their choice. Each group produced one large painting and then used the painting to create a brief story that they narrated to the rest of the group.

For the final review of their work, the teachers sat with Khitam so each one could express her feelings and ideas and discuss what she had learned.

palestine teacher training painting in groups

Teachers work together to create themed paintings which they will share with their peers.

This was Khitam’s third session with the same group of teachers, working alongside ANERA’s Sulaima Abu Al Haj. “I enjoy training this group because the teachers are interacting well and are serious about developing themselves,” said Khitam. “I hope I will have enough time to explain more about why it is important to include arts in all aspects of the preschool and not just limit it to painting.”

Sulaima Abu El-Haj says the key is for the teachers to practice what they have absorbed in the sessions to make their classrooms a truly enjoyable learning experience for the children. The teachers got to be kids again, making houses out of clay, admiring a sea shell, listening intently to a story and painting in groups. “This is how learning happens!”

Under the ECD program ANERA also renovates, furnishes and equips preschools with child-appropriate materials and provides reading bags for kids and parents to encourage learning both in the class and at home.

Mother Ohoud Dahouk gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl last month. The mother of two calls her doctor an angel for helping her bear the pain of a difficult delivery. And that care and assistance doesn’t stop with the birth. Ohoud and her baby Mariya continue to get help from Near East Council of Churches (NECC) field health workers who provide postpartum checkups at home and at the clinic.

Many new mothers in Gaza lack the basic baby supplies needed to keep their infants safe and healthy. Medical workers blame that on a lack of funds and also inadequate hygiene awareness. ANERA has organized mother and child health awareness sessions to help new mothers to learn cope and to offer some help with starter kits including necessary supplies.

“The ability to have these items at childbirth can offer hope for a healthy future for our newborns.”

In Ohoud’s case, the financial burden made it impossible for her to get things like soap and diapers. After she finished her awareness course with her health worker Riham Abu Hassan, Ohoud received one of ANERA’s newborn hygiene kits that contain shampoo for mother and baby, diapers and sanitary pads.

“I was surprised by the gift,” says Ohoud. “It is not common to get something of such value.”

ANERA baby hygiene kits provide new moms with health care items necessary to properly care for their children, especially impoverished families who cannot afford basic supplies. “The ability to have these items at childbirth can offer hope for a healthy future for our newborns,” says health worker Riham.

Thanks to ANERA’s grant, NECC clinic was able to deliver 2,400 hygiene kits at three of its locations and to organize awareness sessions to promote good hygiene and tips for proper infant care.
In Gaza, children from low-income families and those who live in communities with poor sanitation systems are at high risk of infections that can affect their growth and well-being. With just $14 per kit, ANERA is able to provide a starter supply of health care items to help protect infants from contracting infections and deal with other health issues.

gaza mother hygiene ohoud and healthworker

Riham Abu Hassan, a clinic healthcare worker provides an awareness course for Ohoud.

New Early Screening Equipment at Gaza Clinic

The NECC clinic also provides a range of health care services, including pre-postnatal, family planning and reproductive education for many women residing in the Al-Daraj neighborhood. ANERA’s grant also allowed the clinic to buy new equipment, including an ultrasound, blood pressure apparatus, baby scales and child breathing devices.

gaza mother hygiene kits ultrasound

Saja, an expectant mother, learned she has a healthy baby on the way thanks to the new ultrasound at the clinic.

The equipment is vital to monitoring the health of expectant and new mothers and their infants. In Gaza, pregnant women are at risk because of an inadequate diet and frequent pregnancies. “We test blood count and pressure in every patient to monitor her and her baby’s health throughout the pregnancy cycle,” says Dr. Riham Abu Khater.

Thanks to the ultrasound equipment from ANERA, she says it is much easier to monitor the development of the fetus and help doctors detect any abnormalities earlier.

Saja Eldremly, in her ninth month, welcomes the more thorough tests and screenings. After getting assurances from the doctor that everything is as it should be, Saja says her next visit will most likely be for the birth of her baby. She is a bit anxious but then she smiles when she remembers she’ll have the hygiene kit and the nurses’ advice to help her take proper care of her newborn.

Even in their new-found safety in Lebanon, refugees from the Syrian war continue to endure its impact. Having run out of options, Oussama Mkayess and his family fled Aleppo in 2012 and sought refuge in Souk El Gharb, Mount Lebanon, in the heart of the country.

The 43-year old father of four fled to Lebanon with his wife and parents when the armed clashes finally reached Salah El Dine area of his home town of Aleppo. He left behind an extended family, a grocery store, and all his dreams. He and his family resettled in the Lebanese mountains in a two-room house that lacks heat, electricity and access to clean water.

Then more bad news arrived: “We received a disturbing phone call informing us of the death of my uncle and all his family in heavy shelling over Aleppo,” Oussama remembers. “My father couldn’t handle the news and collapsed.” He had suffered a heart attack. Oussama rushed him to the hospital.

Thanks to timely medical intervention, Oussama’s father, Ali, recovered and was put on a comprehensive medical treatment to follow after he was discharged from the hospital. The one-year treatment plan consisted of several medicines, including Clopidogrel. “This medicine is vital but very expensive and I cannot afford it,” says Oussama. “I had to ask the pharmacy for a cheaper alternative but it was impossible.” Eventually, he says his father just stopped taking it.

heart medicine lebanon ali

Ali’s heart medicine was too expensive for his family to afford. Fortunately, ANERA’s in-kind delivery arrived in time to help Ali.

Medicine to Lebanon Brings Hope Amid Tragedy

Oussama’s nightmare has ended, thanks to a generous donation of medicine from Health Partners International – Canada, an organization ANERA has partnered with since 2013 to deliver life-saving medicine. Oussama’s father, like many other heart patients, will receive Clopidogrel at no cost. In collaboration with its local partner, the YMCA, ANERA delivered around 2 Million tablets of Clopidogrel to benefit at least 5,500 cardiac cases in Lebanon for the coming year.

Carole Tobaji, nurse manager at St. George Dispensary in Souk el Gharb explains that Clopidogrel is a very expensive medicine and patients need to take it for a minimum of one year. “Some patients stop the treatment after one month because they simply cannot afford it,” she explains. “But now we have enough here in our pharmacy to treat our 70 heart patients for the year.”

Read more about ANERA’s in-kind program for Lebanon or donate to ANERA to help our relief, development, education and infrastructure work.


Salim Al Ashkar, 43, was born and raised in Khreibeh in Chouf district of Mount Lebanon. He supervised architectural projects; building houses, paving roads. He never really thought about his own home and how it would change his life.

“When I was 10, I used to urge my dad to modernize our house,” he explains, “I wanted to get rid of the arches, the yellowed stone walls, every old display and the “diwan,” the traditional Arab living room. I never looked at our 250-year-old house as a cultural treasure.”

In 2005, his views about his home and his life took a dramatic turn when a tourism expert visited the Nature Cedars Reserve in Lebanon near Salim’s home and then stopped by to see Salim. He persuaded Salim that his home was well-designed for a guesthouse to host visitors to the nearby cedars.

“My parents, friends and neighbors all loved the idea and supported me from day one.” He smiles as he remembers the early days of getting the guesthouse ready, “My mother took over the cooking and I start renovating the house, adding beds and restoring the kitchen.” But Salim insists he took care to preserve every aspect of its traditional beauty.

Salim slowly developed his business and earned a good reputation in the field of hospitality. Visitors from across Lebanon started coming to stay and so did diplomats and staff from foreign embassies, international tourists, students and hikers. Al Ashkar guesthouse has become quite a popular destination for visitors to spend a night or two, enjoy the garden and a traditional meal cooked by his mother, who still runs the kitchen. He can accommodate as many as 20 guests at a time. Most like to stay in the guesthouse bedrooms, but Salim says some prefer to pitch a tent or a sleeping bag in the garden.

Everyone is welcome, he says.

Lebanon rural tourism outside view

Al Ashkar is a beautiful place for visitors to the Cedar Nature Reserve to relax in the beauty of nature.

DHIAFEE Association Helps Salim Advance in Rural Tourism

“Hospitality is an art in itself, you are born with it but you still need to hone your skills and knowledge so this is what I have done,” explains Salim.  During the last decade he took training classes, workshops and attended conferences. “Some of that special training was organized by ANERA, where I learned important tips about security measures, food safety, sanitation and management,” he adds.

Salim is passionate about conservation and rural tourism in Lebanon. He has established a wide network of loyal partners, including staff from the Italian and Spanish embassies, board members of the Cedars Nature Reserve, members of the Lebanese Mountain Trail Hikers, and school principals. His guesthouse is part the DHIAFEE Association, a rural tourism network established by ANERA to create opportunities for economic development in Lebanon.

“The moment we opened the guesthouse it was a huge success, but in the summer of 2006, the war on Lebanon erupted and tourists canceled their trips,” Salim shakes his head and sighs, “It was a disaster. But then I told myself, it is a war and it will end so we need to persevere and better days will come.”

rural tourism lebanon salim guesthouse

Salim points to the second floor of the guesthouse, currently under construction.

Salim’s patience and determination paid off. The next summer more visitors came up to see the cedars and enjoy the beauty of northern Lebanon. His business started to grow and continues to flourish today. Salim is even expanding, building a second floor to welcome more visitors. And, he is continuing to participate in the capacity-building training sessions to hone his skills as a full-time guesthouse owner.

“Through these years of experience I have learned that success comes from taking risks and even failing sometimes but, most important, it is the dream that keeps me going,” concludes Salim with a smile.

What is the DHIAFEE Program?

With USAID funding, ANERA implemented the DHIAFEE program from 2005 to 2008.  The funding has been renewed  to upgrade the network across Lebanon. DHIAFEE in Arabic means hospitality. It is also an acronym describing the mission of the program: Developing the Hospitality Industry’s Abilities-Fostering Economic Expansion.

Learn more about ANERA’s DHIAFEE program or view all the guesthouses at www.dhiafeeprogram.org.

 View the slideshow to see more photos from Al Ashkar.

rural tourism lebanon guesthouse bedroom
rural tourism lebanon guesthouse inside fireplace
rural tourism lebanon inside guest house corridor
rural tourism lebanon outside
rural tourism lebanon outside umbrella

A sunny bedroom in the Al Ashkar guesthouse.

The "diwan," a traditional Arab living room inside the guesthouse.

This stone wall corridor reflects the traditional elegance of the house.

More stunning scenery from outside the inn.

Outdoor umbrellas provide shade for relaxation and respite from the sun.

rural tourism lebanon guesthouse bedroom thumbnail
rural tourism lebanon guesthouse inside fireplace thumbnail
rural-tourism-lebanon-inside-guesthouse-corridor thumbnail
rural-tourism-lebanon-outside-tree thumbnail
rural-tourism-lebanon-outside-umbrella thumbnail


“Sheer bliss.”

That’s how Naser Qadous, ANERA’s agricultural projects manager, described Natheera Al-Asad’s joy upon witnessing the blue flames emerge from the portable gas burner for the first time. “Natheera was skeptical about the entire project up until that moment,” explains Naser. “The surprise on her face was indescribable.”

The West Bank biogas project is one of ANERA’s many agriculture projects that allow for self-sustainability and economic development in marginalized communities. The biogas digesters, designed and implemented by ANERA engineers, provide a renewable source of energy at no cost because all that’s required is animal waste. Rural families in Palestine often have livestock that can easily provide the fuel.

The unique project has been introduced into the northern West Bank community of Al Maleh and also into the homes of 15 impoverished families in Gaza.

In Al Maleh, ANERA celebrated the project’s success with a refreshing pot of tea in Natheera’s home. All the Bedouin mother of 11 had to do was turn on the gas burner, which is connected to an ANERA-designed digester unit that turns animal waste to methane gas.

west bank biogas natheera closeup

Natheera  heats up a pot of tea over the biogas-powered burner.

A Safer, Easier Way to Cook in the West Bank

From dawn to dusk, Natheera, now in her mid-fifties, works relentlessly with her husband churning milk, shepherding livestock, milking, maintaining their tents, cooking, cleaning and spoiling their grandchildren who visit them frequently from a nearby village. The drudgery of making a fire for cooking is something the couple doesn’t look forward to, although it is an everyday necessity.

“The soot is everywhere and the smoke is very thick and harmful,” Natheera explains. “It is also costly for us to buy the wood, so we sometimes forage for twigs and bigger pieces lying around.”

Open-fire fumes are quite harmful and Bedouins traditionally build tents over the fire as a shelter from wind and rain and out of the reach of children. The tents are often used as sleeping areas as well, which is unsafe and unhealthy.

Like other Bedouins, Netheera and her husband sometimes buy gas canisters to make life easier for them, but it is not something they can regularly afford. Now, all she has to do is feed the biogas digester animal waste, which is in plentiful supply from her livestock and free.

west bank biogas natheera and husband

Natheera and her husband can’t wait to use their biogas unit to cook for their grandchildren.

Although the digester cannot entirely replace the traditional open fire for a Bedouin, it can decrease its use and harmful effects. Now the couple can use the new biogas unit to quickly and efficiently prepare their early morning cup of Arabic coffee without worrying about soot or smoke dirtying the crisp clean air around them.

An extra bonus: Natheera says she is especially excited now about the ease of cooking her grandchildren’s favorite meals when they visit without exposing them to any harm.

View the slideshow to see more photos from the Al Maleh community & biogas project: