One of the most important things Palestinians have taught me is to dance—I’ll explain that later.
Last month we opened a library for women in Gaza Camp—for women, set-up by women. I am immensely proud of it. I remember a few years ago meeting Noora Sharrab, the founder of Hopes For Women In Education, and being impressed by her—her vision, her passion, her drive to serve Palestinian women. I also felt a kinship with her. I think it was in that very first meeting she mentioned her vision for a Women’s Centre in Gaza Camp. I took away from the conversation that the purpose of the Center would be a safe place that women could gather to learn, exchange information, work, and be together. It was at this point she mentioned her hope that the Center would contain a library for all the women in the camp.
Later that year, when I was back in Jordan, the building had just been renovated and was ready for a grand opening. I took a tour of it before the opening – it was impressive, newly remodeled with a space for Sitti Soap employees to produce their beautiful product of olive oil soap. You should buy some, click the link! But, one thing was missing—a library. Fast forward to a year later when I am on the phone with Noora asking what Hopes really needed in the next year. She said, “the library.” In that instant I committed to helping provide it for them.
Part of my joy at the grand opening last month was I have been a witness and participant in seeing this become a reality. Facilitating this project, I have seen just how many people and organizations made this possible – not only because they believed in the project but because they believed in Palestinian refugees.
Libby from Global Reach Libraries donated her time, contacts, and expertise to provide an up-to-date, quality, well-selected library. She has many projects going on throughout the world and yet she committed to this project and the women of the camp. Bibliofiche is a library services company, they donated an online library system to the Center for an indefinite period of time. When I sent a thank you to their President, he thanked me for inviting them to join us.
Then there was all of you in America. We received an outpouring of help and finances to make this library possible. We saw and felt the genuine excitement and care from so many of you. You cannot believe our joy when we saw you value the project and the women and fork out your hard-earned money to see it come to fruition. Thank you, a thousand-fold.
This past summer in Jordan I cannot express how hard the staff of Hopes For Women worked on this project. As some of you might know, I am not the easiest manager. I have high expectations of myself and others. They exceeded all of my expectations and put in some serious hard work to setup the library. I also witnessed their commitment to serving other women in the camp—to give back what they, themselves, have been given by Hopes For Women. It was an immense joy to work side by side with them.
So, as I watched the Center fill up with women from the camp and felt the buzz of excitement in the air, I thought about all the steps and all the people that made it possible. Even Jordanian author, Ayman Alotoom, took time to travel up to the camp and to participate in the grand opening. He shared so much time answering questions, signing autographs, and posing for pictures with the girls. I was struck by his patience and care of the young women in attendance. He even committed to donating 100 books to the library. He made the grand opening extra special for all of us.
So, that day, I treasured all of this up in my heart—every step, every person, every problem, and now the success. When we choose to work together and commit to one another EVERTHING is possible—that is the success. When we put serving others that are in need ahead of ourselves and our needs, amazing things are possible—opportunities abound.
· This library is full of handpicked books (literally) by Palestinian refugee women for Palestinian refugee women.
· Part-time employment for a young Palestinian refugee woman.
· New skills for the staff.
· A quality, updated educational resource for refugee women.
· A new way to reach out to all the women of the camp.
Think of the lasting impact of this--not just the library itself but the partnerships, the empowerment, the connections!
I mentioned dancing. One thing Palestinian refugees do well is live in the moment, maybe because the moment is all they have. After everyone cleared out of the Centre, we celebrated and we danced. We danced our asses off. Palestinian women have taught me to dance, Arabic style—to let go, let those hips fly, and to enjoy.
We had a good day – one good in the midst of many not-so-good days. And yet, there is always time to dance. What I see unfolding now for Palestinian refugees at the hands of my government is dark. And yet, we can still dance-- in defiance, in joy, in life. For a moment, we can fight back the injustice and the pain by coming together and providing something (however big or small) that gives opportunities to Palestinian refugee communities--and then dance over it.
That is partnership, that is joy, that is goodness, that is togetherness.
That is dance.
“Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.” ~Rumi