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I have never forgotten this humane and creative organization

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By Dagny Bilkadi

I was born in Rochester, Minnesota, where my father was a staff doctor at the Mayo Clinic. My mother was from a Navy family. As a young woman she joined the Red Cross at the start of WWII. She was sent to a Naval hospital in Algeria, where she met my father. Her unit followed the front line up through Italy and finally into Germany, where she witnessed the aftermath of the atrocities at the Dachau concentration camp.

Dagny Bilkadi

Dagny Bilkadi

I grew up with these stories and with all the unexamined myths about Israel and its creation. When I went to Stanford University in the late 1960s, I became aware of the histories and injustices that minorities in the US lived under. In graduate school for an ESL degree, I began to meet students from the Middle East and soon learned the painful history of Palestinians in the 20th century. I later took a long break from teaching and moved to Washington to look for a job in international development. That’s where I found Anera.

I started at Anera in early 1979 as the administrative assistant and later served as an executive assistant, also handling the medical donation program, in 1980 and 1981.

I remember that one of my first assignments from then Anera President Peter Gubser was to find us an exciting new electronic typewriter – so you can imagine how long ago that was! I was proud to handle the in-kind medical donations and decided to travel to the West Bank and Gaza to take photos of our projects to use for newsletters. I brought my mother along and, after a few nights of returning to our hotel full of gratitude for the hospitality of our Palestinian hosts but also tears for their hardships and frustrations living under military occupation and the growing settler movement, she abruptly dropped all her previous assumptions about the history and motivations of Israel. Together we became strong advocates for Anera and everything related to it.

Beit Jala Olive Press Co-op members serving tea to my mother, Nancy Svien, and me.

Beit Jala Olive Press Co-op members serving tea to my mother, Nancy Svien, and me.

I eventually started missing my teaching career and so I left Anera and returned to Minnesota. But I have never, ever forgotten this courageous, humane, creative and hard-working organization. I even met my husband through another Anera donor!

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