From Roller Skating to the Anera Board

I was born and raised in the Middle East. In our household, we were told to eat our vegetables because there were Palestinian refugees with little on their plates.

Every other year we went to Palestine for family vacation. One summer during college, I worked in Palestine. First, I helped out in an orphanage in Jerusalem for a few weeks. Each morning I would grab breakfast on the street. The sesame-covered bread called ka’ak came with a small vial of olive oil for dipping and a few pinches of za’atar folded in old newspaper. This is still the best food in the world. Jerusalem smells like incense, dusty stone, and za’atar.

I then spent most of the summer as a counselor in an UNRWA-run summer program for girls from all over the West Bank and Gaza. The camp was held on the school grounds of the Deir Ammar refugee camp in the West Bank hills overlooking Lydda. In addition to teaching the girls to swim, I had the all-important task of teaching the girls a great life skill – how to roller skate. And I choreographed roller dances for them to the music of Hawaii Five O and Shaft, which were their favorite songs, despite the salty lyrics.

Why I support Anera

My father was one of the pioneers of Aramco. As I grew up in Saudi Arabia, I saw it transform. I remember when I was ten, saying to myself, “We live in a poor country. But it is getting less poor and people are now able to get an education and feed and clothe their kids. And all that is happening because there is a company producing something people want to buy.” That childhood insight guided most of my career investing in emerging markets companies that I think can contribute to economic growth that improves people’s lives.

My attraction to Anera comes from my belief in what it does. Eleven years ago, a friend invited me to join the Anera board. He knew I cared deeply about Palestinian refugees and he saw an opportunity for me to put my finance skills to work helping refugees and other vulnerable communities in Palestine and beyond. Almost immediately I became the chair of the finance committee (with a bit of kicking and screaming!). Quickly thereafter we set out on the search for a new chief financial officer. Those first months were intense, but we found an excellent CFO who is still with Anera, doing great work. I have been a proud board member and Anera supporter ever since.

I believe in institutional charity. While as individuals working with a few people directly we can make a difference, that is not scalable. An institution, with proper support overhead (yes, overhead) can measure what works and what doesn’t, build on lessons learned, grow deep roots in the places they operate, and pass on knowledge. They can interact with other organizations to create a bigger impact as Anera does with UNICEF or Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, for example. In my view, donors should research the institutions to which they give, and if they believe they are well run and that they allocate their funds well, then donors should give mostly unrestricted gifts. Let the charity you believe in allocate the funds where they see the greatest need.

It’s impressive to see how much Anera has been able to accomplish in the time since I joined the board. Anera’s response to tragedies like the Beirut blast and the bombardment of Gaza last May is incredible. Our staff got out there right away to help families with hot meals in Gaza with World Central Kitchen, to rebuild homes in Beirut, restore water connections and more. Many of Anera’s interventions are relatively small and inexpensive, yet critical and impactful, like erecting water-smart rooftop gardens on family homes and installing water purification systems at community centers in Gaza. These projects are really making people’s lives better.

Communications manager Rania Elhilou
Anera’s Rania Elhelo at a rooftop garden in Gaza.

Leaving a legacy with Anera

Aside from regularly making contributions to Anera, I also have put the organization in my will. When the founders created Anera back in 1968, I am certain that they did not expect it to still exist over 50 years later. But here we are. And unfortunately I’m sure that there will still be a need for Anera when I die. So, I ask, why not leave Anera in your will? You can do good for people in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan after you’re gone.

Everyone should draft a will. It’s so easy to put off, but having one spares your loved ones a lot of trouble. And it makes you think about what kind of legacy you want to leave. Do it today! When you make your will, all you have to do is decide if you want to leave a flat sum or a percentage of some number to Anera. Plus, Anera makes it extra easy. Just go to anera.org/will to create or update your will.

I know you’re part of a caring community that is invested in the well-being of Palestinian refugees and other vulnerable communities in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. Please join me in leaving a lasting legacy by putting Anera in your will.



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