Seeing Anera in Action

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By Anera Board Member Katherine Wilkens

From June 5th to 13th I joined Anera CEO Sean Carroll and Board Chair Joe Saba on a trip to visit Anera staff and programs in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak. Originally planned for May, our trip was delayed first by extended COVID regulations and then by the outbreak of the latest deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Katherine Wilkins, an Anera board member, walks through rubble in Gaza during a visit in June 2021.
We saw a lot of destruction in Gaza during my visit there. In this photo I am visiting a clinic that Anera built in Beit Lahia. The surrounding area suffered quite a bit of damage, but the clinic came through okay.

Gaza: Just Two Weeks After the Ceasefire

We arrived in Gaza less than two weeks after the ceasefire and our small group was one of the first international humanitarian delegations to enter the Strip. Amid the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes, and the ongoing efforts to assist those most badly in need of emergency assistance, what we witnessed was the incredible strength, warmth and resilience of the Palestinian people in Gaza. It was truly something to behold.

Still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with only minimal vaccine access and outside medical support, Palestinians in Gaza endured an intense 11-day bombardment in May without bomb shelters or any options to protect themselves and their loved ones. We heard from health professionals and others that the need for post-conflict psychosocial support was widespread. Individuals who had experienced every war since 2008 told us that the intensity of the recent bombing campaign was greater than anything they had ever experienced before.

Nevertheless Anera staff and the individuals we engaged with — health care workers, students, farmers, small business people, families, teachers and others — were all looking forward, not backward, and trying to do whatever was in their power to put their lives back together, help others, and try to move on. It’s a strength that’s difficult to imagine.

Over four days we visited a wide range of Anera-supported projects including a Gaza women’s cooperative, water works, sustainable rooftop gardens, a solar-powered agricultural irrigation project, multiple health clinics where Anera supplies badly-needed donated medical aid, an Anera-constructed preschool and the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, an institution serving many of the poorest of the poor which has had a relationship with Anera that goes back decades.

Wherever we went it was clear that Anera was a long-time, trusted partner. It was also striking how many of our projects managed to integrate multiple elements of sustainable development, including solar power, water conservation, agriculture, human development, community development, food self-sufficiency, women’s empowerment, and youth development.

Joe Saba, Katherine Wilkins and Sean Carroll visit a reverse osmosis unit that Anera installed in Gaza.
Visiting the reverse osmosis unit Anera installed at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Joe Saba is to my right and Sean Carroll is on my left.

The West Bank and Home

From Gaza we went on to the West Bank. It was a short, but inspiring visit. We met participants of Anera’s Women Can program in the Ramallah area who are starting their own small businesses with some help from Anera. In a place where there are few jobs, this kind of initiative helps families provide for themselves. In this same vein, we met with an impressive group of newly employed graduates from Anera’s PLUS+Code career accelerator program who were living proof of the possibilities of connecting more and more talented Palestinian youth with good paying job opportunities in the IT sector around the world through PLUS (People Leveling Up Skills).

We also went to Anera’s treated wastewater reuse project in Ramallah. It is helping to address the Palestinian water shortage by using grey water to put out fires and irrigate parks and other public spaces in Ramallah. At the end of the day, we enjoyed warm hospitality and a home-grown, home-cooked feast at the beautiful home of Naser Qadous, an Anera agronomist.

On our way to a meeting at Anera’s Jerusalem office, Sean Carroll and I walk through Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighborhood at the heart of the recent crisis.

After meetings in Jerusalem with Anera staff, US Embassy and USAID staff, UN and World Bank representatives and others, Sean and Joe went on to visit Anera’s projects in Lebanon and I returned to DC prouder than ever to be associated with an organization like Anera that is making a tangible difference for people living in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

I believe that nothing would advance the cause of peace and justice further than if more people were able to witness the reality on the ground and speak with everyday folks in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank who are struggling for the simple right to live in dignity, raise their children and have hope for the future.

About Katherine Wilkens
Katherine Wilkens has a long background in international affairs and the Middle East. She has worked at the National Democratic Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, AMIDEAST, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Congress. This was her first trip to the region as a member of Anera’s board of directors.

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