For Earth Day 2017, we caught up with Dr. Mansour, a Palestinian medical doctor and farmer who was part of ANERA’s agricultural knowledge sharing program. Using the skills he learned, he and his sister Ni’ma lovingly tend to their farm in Beit Duqo, West Bank.

With a bunch of yellow roses in his hand, Dr. Mansour beams. “When I visit the land, it usually gives me a gift. This is a gift of today. Our feet are planted in this land. The land gives to the one who loves it and works on it.”

WATCH: Dr. Mansour Shares the Fruit of his Labor

After a busy morning of meetings and activities, over 1,000 Ramallah expatriates came together in June to celebrate Al-Masyoun’s newest addition—its first public park. Al Bayyara, as it is known, is one of several parks being built across the West Bank by Bank of Palestine, ANERA and the Muna and Basem Hishmeh Foundation.

Al Masyoun’s park is another in the Al Bayyara network of safe public parks in the West Bank.

The goal of the Al Bayyara project is to transform vacant plots of land into beautifully landscaped safe havens for families to gather and children to play without fear. Al Bayyara means citrus grove in Arabic.

Al AMasyoun’s Al Bayyara park was dedicated during the Ramallah Annual Convention, which brought together for the first time in Ramallah American members of the federation. The convention’s coordinators made sure to include the Bayyara park ceremony in their packed schedule.

ANERA donor Muna Hishmeh cuts the ribbon to open Al Masyoun's first public park, known as Al Bayyara.

ANERA donor Muna Hishmeh cuts the ribbon to open Al Masyoun’s  Al Bayyara park.

“It is certainly an honor to have the park’s inauguration as part of the convention’s agenda, especially one of this magnitude and importance,” explained ANERA program manager Mazen Dabbagh. “We are very proud to have so many guests who traveled so far for the convention and then took time out to be with us for this celebration.”

Among the expats were Al Bayyara donors Basem and Muna Hishmeh, who were amazed and delighted when they arrived at the newest Bayyara, which was built in close partnership with the Ramallah Municipality. The George and Rhonda Salem Family Foundation also contributed to building Al Masyoun’s park, which is nestled in a residential area that serves hundreds of families.

Two West Bank girls enjoy the swings in Al Masyoun's new public park Al Bayyara,

Two  girls prefer the swings.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Basem Hishmeh encouraged his fellow federation members to invest in their home country and in projects that would benefit children and their families.. And then it was time to cut the ribbon and allow the eager children to play on the new equipment, including colorful jungle gyms and swings. The park also boasts springers, a roundabout, seesaws, hexagonal swing-set and a net swing.

Like all Bayyara parks, we take safety into account when building it and choosing playground equipment and games. We want families to know that their children are in safe hands and can run around and enjoy the park’s features without hurting themselves,” added Dabbagh.

ANERA also planted trees and flower beds and installed benches to create a natural and comfortable ambiance the entire family can enjoy. The park was built around three old olive trees, abiding by the program’s policy of preserving natural surroundings of the parks. The olive tree itself symbolizes of resilience and steadfastness to Palestinians so the trees’ presence in the park is especially welcome.

 

West Bank boys enjoy a spin in new Al Bayyara park built in Ramallah neighborhood of Al Masyoun.

West Bank boys enjoy a spin in new Al Bayyara park built in Al Masyoun.

“This is the first time I feel that as a girl, my role as a decision-maker is respected, and I can freely express myself,” said Sana Ghanem, a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the Al Ma’ashouk gathering of Palestinian refugees in Tyre, South Lebanon.

In Lebanon, it remains difficult for girls to play sports and to access safe recreational spaces, especially in conservative communities. “I’ve always enjoyed football but the only place I could play was the balcony of our house, where I used to play with my brother,” said Sana.

Sana is one of 4,500 children around Lebanon learning conflict resolution, communication, and negotiation skills through sports activities. They learn these skills mainly through the football3 program created by Streetfootballworld, which uses the sport as a tool for positive social change. Gender equality is a basic value of football3, along with fair play, teamwork, respect, and athletic conditioning.

Female participation is encouraged in football3.

This is the first time I’ve heard about football3, but I like it more than traditional football, because my role as a player here is respected as much as that of a male player.”

A Creative Concept to Foster Health and Personal Growth

A typical football3 match consists of three periods. First is a pre-match discussion for the teams to agree on rules of the game. Next comes the football match itself, which ranges in duration from 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the team. Finally, a post-game discussion allows players to reflect on the match, and to what extent the rules were respected. Points come from good sportsmanship as well as goals, and the whole process is overseen by a trained mediator or facilitator.

Traditional football is popular in Lebanon, but the concept of football3 is less known. “This is the first time I’ve heard about football3, but I like it more than traditional football, because my role as a player here is respected as much as that of a male player,” Sana said. “If there’s a rule in the game that I don’t agree with, we can amend it together.”

Nazha Al Robi, the mediator who oversaw Sana’s match, agrees that women in Lebanon face challenges as football fans and players. “It is not that acceptable for women and girls to play sports publicly here, and for many years I only played indoors or in private spaces,” she said.

A football3 trainer explains that it's not yet acceptable for girls to play sports publicly in Lebanon.

“It is not that acceptable for women and girls to play sports publicly here, and for many years I only played indoors or in private spaces,” explains Nahza, the trainer.

Positive Effects of Sports Affect the Whole Community

Sports offer healthier lifestyle choices, too. As Nazha explained, “Here within the refugee community, we have seven- and eight-year-old children visiting cafes and smoking. By providing opportunities to children to play sports in safe spaces, they can learn to adopt healthy lifestyles while developing their skills, so later in life they are more prepared to positively contribute to their community and society.”

Lebanon continues to experience instability due to its proximity to the Syrian war and the ongoing influx of Syrian refugees. There are now over a million and a half Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who are added to the thousands of Palestinian refugees already in the country.

In response, ANERA is implementing a ‘Youth for Development’ sports education program in partnership with Streetfootballworld, along with funds from the UEFA Foundation for Children and the German Federal Foreign Office. The program aims to reach 4,500 at-risk youth from different communities with the skills, social networks and safe spaces necessary to develop their full potential and foster social cohesion in a fragmented society.

Om Ahmed is a role model for the women in her community. Not only is she highly influential, but she’s called the leader by her neighbors. It’s not hard to see why—this grandmother never stops. Each morning, she slips on her sneakers and her traditional embroidered dress and goes for a walk on the seashore. In the afternoons, she spends time with her grandsons. And in between, she’s leading a women’s initiative to bring health and hygiene to her water-scarce community.

Accessing water has long been a major struggle in her Gaza City neighborhood of Sheikh Ejlien. “Water is even more scarce during summertime. One summer, we had no water for 7-10 days and because of the power outages, the water pressure was low, too.”

In response to the erratic water schedules that summer, Om Ahmed’s family kept a large jug under the open taps, so they would be able to collect water at whatever odd hour it came. Similarly, neighbors relied on excavating wells to drag water to their homes and gardens. The well water was sufficient at first, but then excessive use depleted the already-scarce resource. What little was left had become saline and unsafe for cooking.

Om Ahmed decided she needed to act when even the well water became saline and unsafe for cooking.

Om Ahmed decided she needed to act when even the well water became saline and unsafe for cooking.

“I lost my trees and lovely roses,” said Om Ahmed. That’s when she decided she needed to act. Ever since she took part in a Swedish project 15 years ago, she and 25 other women formed a volunteer group dedicated to campaigning for pressing neighborhood issues like water and hygiene.

New Water Project Spurs Gaza Women Into Action

When the group of women volunteers heard about a new ANERA water project in their area, they immediately got excited at the prospect of ending years of struggle. Taking initiative, the women divided themselves into groups and started a door-to-door campaign to collect data and encourage local women to attend public health education sessions. The women spoke to their neighbors from any place they could—from health clinics, preschools, tailors and small grocery stores.

With running water in the home, Gaza women don't have to waste time searching for water.

With running water in her home, Fatima and other women in her neighborhood don’t have to spend time searching for water.

Om Ahmed said that the project was particularly important to them as women. When women have access to clean water, she said, they spend less time searching for it and more time focusing on important things like caring for their children and grandchildren. “Water is needed for everyday tasks and household chores such as cleaning and doing laundry,” she added.

When the homes of Om Ahmed’s neighborhood were connected to a reliable source of water, residents switched on their generators to pump water to upper floors. “We never thought that we’d get those old generators back to work after all of these years,” said Om Ahmed.

Health Education Brings Good Hygiene to Fatima’s Family

The health component of the project also helped mothers identify symptoms of parasitic infection in their children. These often result from poor hygiene, which itself is caused by lack of water.

When Fatima joined ANERA’s health education sessions in her community, she learned that the health problems her young daughter Rimas was experiencing might be related to an infection of pin worms. ANERA’s health educator taught Fatima how to test for the parasite and advised her to carefully follow good hygiene practices such as washing thoroughly with soap and warm water after toilet use, changing baby diapers, and before handling food. Of course, this is easier for Fatima now that she has regular running water.

Fatima is pleased that she can better care for her daughter Rimas, who suffered from parasite infections

Fatima is pleased that she can better care for her daughter Rimas, who suffered from parasite infections.

“Good hygiene is the most successful way to prevent infections,” said Lana Al Agha, ANERA’s public health officer. “Mothers can also prevent infections by cutting fingernails and laundering the infected child’s clothing and bed sheets separately and in hot water, so the infection doesn’t spread to other family members.

Now, Rimas has better sleeping and eating habits and her father is surprised about her improved health. “I now know what symptoms to keep an eye out for to ensure my kids are staying healthy,” said Fatima. “I can never go back to the painful past days. Health is a treasure only seen by those who once lost it.”

Parasitic infection is common in Gaza due to contaminated water, lack of access to clean running water, raw sewage filling streets and limited knowledge about preventative health and hygiene practices.

The water, sanitation and hygiene project was implemented in four phases and was funded by Islamic Relief USA in partnership with ANERA. It included 20 water and sanitation projects, 85 health sessions and the distribution of almost 5,000 hygiene kits.

As a mother of three young children, Fatima Badran is no stranger to colds and infections. However, when her youngest child’s symptoms were not improving, she decided to take time off from work and go to the charitable clinic in her town for a quick check-up.

Dr. Imad Slemiya, general practitioner, readily welcomes mother and daughter. Young Celia is cranky and fidgety, but Dr. Slemiya manages to examine her with ease thanks to years of practice. After checking her throat, ears, nose and chest, he determines the cause of the infection is bacterial and briefs the mother on the preferred method of treatment. He prescribes an antibiotic to tearful Celia to help her fight the bacterial infection.

Celia is grumpy now, but soon she'll be feeling better than to antibiotics delivered by ANERA and donated by AmeriCares.

Celia is grumpy now, but soon she’ll be feeling better than to antibiotics delivered by ANERA and donated by AmeriCares.

Antibiotics can be expensive and aren’t always available in Idhna, but the antibiotic Celia needs was recently delivered by ANERA as part of a donation made by trusted in-kind partner, AmeriCares. Most parents who visit the charitable center in cannot afford the price of medicines sold at pharmacies, and they are always elated to find needed medicines free of charge.

Because nearly half the Palestinian population has no form of health insurance, medicines that can be prescribed and given out free-of-charge are always in demand. “When medicines like this antibiotic is available for free, it helps the child get treated at the right time. It also takes some pressure off the parents who struggle to make ends meet,” explains Dr. Slemiya.

Donated Medicines Keep the Only Clinic in Idhna Running

The doctor explains how vital ANERA’s donated medications are to the durability and efficiency of the charitable center: “To provide the best primary health care for our patients, we have to have essential medications in stock and in the right amounts at all times,” he explains. “Without these donations, the center would have to buy the medications, which would strain our limited budget and leave us unable to provide the best care.”

It's hard for many poor families to get healthcare in Palestine, so Fatima is grateful for the free medicines.

Fatima picks up the medicine Celia needs for her bacterial infection, free of charge.

In Idhna, many parents use old home remedies or self-medication to treat ailments, because they are afraid they won’t be able to afford treatment. As an educated 30-year-old woman, Fatima is fully aware of the consequences of self-medication and Dr. Slemiya is thankful for that. “We applaud responsible parents like Fatima who seek out a doctor’s advice before using medicines, especially on vulnerable children. It’s an important message that we try to spread through our volunteer health educators’ department.”

Fatima and her family rely largely on the charitable center for health-related issues, especially with the absence of a hospital. “It’s the only place in our town I can count on for quality health service. I even find the quality of the medication provided here for free much better than any local pharmacy provides for sale.”