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This poem was published on PeaceXPeace. I would love your comments.
I feel rested
you feel anxious
I make pancakes
you cut onions
I fold laundry
You tie kafiyehs
I read email
You read danger
I buy fish
You buy time
I contemplate you
you contemplate them
tear gas stings
This article appeared in This Week in Palestine’s January 2013 issue on the theme of investment.
Investors want their assets to multiply. They buy shares in companies or funds and expect financial returns in the form of periodic dividends or growth in the value of their shares. Our economy revolves around investment – investors accept stakes in other people’s ventures; entrepreneurs grow their initiatives with others’ resources and support.
“Community investment” is a little different. It also involves inputs, but the inputs are not limited to money. They include expertise, material goods, moral support, and more. Community investment is profitable, but it brings a social return on investment (SROI) instead of simply financial gain.
The social return on community investment in Palestine can be measured in stronger community institutions, lower poverty, better education, improved livelihoods, personal security, hope for the future, and other collective benefits. Moreover, making a profitable community investment in Palestine is less risky than almost any other kind of investment if you keep these five guidelines in mind:
1. Focus on the potential return. If you invest in a community group that becomes empowered and effective, how will it impact children’s life chances, equality for women, sustainable farming, cultural expression? Isn’t it an honour to play a small role in the development of Palestine?
2. Show faith in the management. If managers are credible and if they are learners, support their leadership, even when they take risks. Community leaders are not contractors to be hired to implement activities. They are the dedicated front line of social change. Believe in them, even when they doubt themselves.
3. Consider your capacity. Are the resources you have to invest the ones that are needed? Do you have contacts you can use to mobilise other resources? Never think that what you have to offer isn’t enough. If you listen to local priorities, you will find a valuable way to contribute.
4. Make a long-term commitment. One-time transactions may feel good to the giver, but profits from community investment don’t accrue short term, and they rarely lead to sustainability. Are you ready to participate in Palestinian community development for the long haul?
5. Work collectively. No one investor can solve community problems alone. Are you willing to combine your investment with others’ investments in order to capitalise the Palestinian community? One way to do this is through a philanthropic organisation such as Dalia Association, Palestine’s only community foundation.
Saeeda Mousa, director of Dalia Association, took me to Zawiya, a village of about 5,500 residents on 23,000 dunams in Salfit Governorate to see one of Dalia’s community investments. As the road from Ramallah twisted and turned for nearly an hour, I left pieces of my stomach in each Israeli settlement and in each Palestinian village we passed. But it was worth it when I sat with community members and we started talking.
Dalia had already worked intimately with the village, implementing a small-grants programme that empowers community members to decide which of their own community groups to fund and to hold those community groups accountable. It made sense, then, for Zawiya to be a pilot site for Dalia’s “village funds” concept – a kind of resource bank into which local residents, the private sector, and the diaspora could invest in community-led development.
The first contribution of $2,500 came from The Abraaj Group, headquartered in Dubai, which maintains a “company fund” with Dalia Association. That first contribution was a vote of confidence, but it still took more than a year to inspire enough trust to raise more. The next $400 came from Adam, a local Zawiya resident who wanted to be part of launching the new idea. Then Ismail, a Zawiya native living in Brazil, added $1,000 to leverage more funds, and that was followed by a $1,000 contribution from Abdul Qader Mustafa Abu Naba’a, a philanthropist originally from Zawiya who now lives in Jordan. When Adam submitted the idea to Dalia’s philanthropy contest and was one of three winners, it brought another $1,000 to the Zawiya Village Fund. This example demonstrates that “community investment” means both investment in the community and investment by the community. It’s a model that values the financial contribution of investors and the sweat equity of local community workers. They become true partners in the success of their joint venture.
Zawiya residents considered several ideas before deciding to use the $5,900 in the Zawiya Village Fund to provide revolving loans. Seven men and five women took small loans of NIS 1,300 (less than $450) interest free. The municipality contributes by providing the repayment system: they take NIS 100 every month when loan-takers pay their electricity bills. Those payments are set aside for another round of loans. Dalia Association has already committed to adding another $2,500, also from The Abraaj Group company fund at Dalia Association, for the next round of revolving loans.
Abu Majdi was among those very satisfied with his loan. “I had a small store that brought in about NIS 400/month. I expanded it and now it brings in NIS 1,000/month. Now that there’s more work, my mother runs the store. She benefits personally and socially by having something important to do.” Abdel Mi’em used NIS 400 of his loan to buy seeds and dirt, and he planted them in plastic bags that he cut from sheets. “Come back in May and you’ll find 400 small trees; each one selling for NIS 10,” he said proudly.
Zawiya was a philanthropic community before Dalia’s involvement. Abu Naba’a invested $135,000 in a cultural centre that was the first in Salfit. It works closely with the municipality offering sports and cultural activities, Islamic education, and other training courses. Many community members are also involved in the village’s nine active groups. Hiyam, who has served on the city council for seven years, says, “When I give, I feel happy. I sacrifice, but I feel I have made a difference.” They stay in contact with villagers who have moved away through an active Facebook page.
“All villages have resources of some kind. Many local residents are ready to give, but they can’t give a lot and they think that their small contribution won’t matter. Business folk like to give to their villages, but only if they have confidence that their contributions will be used well. And there are Palestinians in the diaspora who love to give to their villages, but they want a safe, easy, transparent way to give,” Saeeda says. Village funds housed at Dalia Association provide these benefits. She adds, “Companies can also open corporate social responsibility funds in the name of the company. Groups or individuals can establish funds in the name of a family or on behalf of a specific issue.”
“But community investment is not only about money,” Saeeda says. “Sometimes you just need to believe in people and help them to believe in themselves. Don’t push them onto your timeline or in the direction you think is best for them. Follow their lead and they will find solutions to their own problems.”
We drove back to Ramallah from Zawiya on a different road. We passed Qarawa Beni Zaid, Nabi Saleh, and so many other Palestinian villages ripe for the idea of a village fund. We passed stunning valleys and terrace after terrace of tenderly pruned olive trees. The clouds, puffy against the baby blue sky, were so low you could scoop them up in your hands. Palestine is truly abundant. There are many resources to be mobilised through investment; there is much potential for high social return.
“Extra large?” The shop owner holds up the soft, pink pajamas I’ve brought to the register. “For you?” (He is surprised because I am very small.)
“No, for my friend’s daughter.”
“Is she fat?” he asks. He uses the word descriptively not as an insult.
(I realize this conversation reminds me of buying meat. I point to the cut I want and ask for half kilo, but the butcher insists on knowing what I’m cooking before he agrees to sell it to me.)
“No, she’s not fat,” I indulge the man’s curiosity. “She’s tiny.” I hold up my pinky finger to indicate that the girl is a stick. It’s true. Her eyes have started to bulge over her sunken cheeks. I tremble slightly and the shop owner notices.
“Why, sister, are you buying an extra large pajama if the girl is small?”
“Her mother told me to buy extra large.”
“Is she tall?”
I hesitate. I image her lying in the pale green hospital gown with the hospital sheet over her bony knees. “I’m not sure,” I confess. “I’ve only seen her lying down.” (This is not exactly true. I met her at her aunt’s wedding some months ago. But there were hundreds of women there, and I don’t remember meeting her. Who knew that she would come to play such a prominent role in my life?)
There is a pause.
“The girl is sick?” he says, compassion flooding his face. I nod. “She’s only eighteen,” I say to fill up the silence pressing on my throat.
“You have done me a favor!” he bursts out, startling me. He puts the extra large pajamas in a bag and slides them across the glass counter. “I try to do good every day, but I don’t always find an opportunity.”
I begin to shake my head, embarrassed by what I think he is saying, but he continues: “Please take these to her. Please do it as a favor to me. Let me do this good thing today.”
“No, I can’t accept that. I came to buy the pajamas. I can pay for them.” I fumble with my purse.
“But you are already doing good for her. You are visiting her, right? And you’re going to take her the pajamas?” He’s practically begging.
“So let me do something good, too. Let these pajamas be from me.”
Our eyes meet and I know how he feels: powerless to make a difference, desperate to contribute something meaningful to this suffering world. I nod and clutch the pajamas to my chest so my emotions won’t spill out onto his tile floor.
Two days later, I’m sitting on the edge of the hospital bed and I ask about the pajamas. The girl’s mom smiles awkwardly. “She’s lost a lot of weight,” she says, having discovered for herself what the rest of us already knew.
“I’ll exchange them,” I say, reaching for the bag that she’s put in a box under the hospital bed.
“It’s too much trouble for you.”
“Please…” I say, “let me do something good. Please?”
And she let me.
I pull out of Beit Hanina, the East Jerusalem suburb where I live, and turn onto the main road towards Ramallah. Traffic is light. It is only 6:30 am. In less than one hour, cars will fill the street and spill onto the sidewalks like raspberry, orange and grape candies forgotten to rot and collect dust. They will elbow their way through the roundabout, the space between them only big enough for gusts of black exhaust to escape into the Jerusalem air.
The drivers, having not yet reached the place where the old man sells thick Arabic coffee in plastic cups, will be half-asleep. They will wake briefly to battle for their territory when the lanes merge from three to two, then from two to one. When their tires clang over the row of metal spikes that signal there is no going back, they will blink and see the reality before them: soldiers with automatic weapons on the left ignore cars traveling from Jerusalem to the West Bank but check each car trying to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank. There is a line of Fiats and Fords snaking alongside the separation wall all the way past the refugee camp. Teachers, laborers, secretaries, nurses, salesmen, students. They will light up cigarettes and wait for their turn to enter Jerusalem—if they are deemed legitimate, acceptable, human.
But it was only 6:30 am, and I was spared. The checkpoint was nearly empty. I rolled down my window and enjoyed the crisp October air, a brief respite between the washed out heat of summer and the smell-of-damp-concrete winter. Then I saw him stepping off the curb.
A man, perhaps in his early thirties, slightly overweight, light brown pants, brown-green shirt. In his arms, a full-grown woman, mid-twenties, average height and weight, black pants and black blouse, her eyes tired, a blue surgical mask over her mouth. She looked weak but she was conscious. I stopped my car the second I saw them. The man nodded to acknowledge my courtesy. My mouth dropped open and tears sprung to my eyes. He crossed the street in front of me, a small entourage of women carrying bags behind him.
And then I was crying. Cars behind me honked, but I sat crying. The man and his wife/sister/neighbor/friend had disappeared into the mob of cars going the opposite direction. Was he trying to take her to a doctor in Jerusalem? Was he going to stand in the two-hour line? How would he pass through the turnstyle holding a full-grown woman like a baby in his arms? Had she left children at home? Did they see daddy carrying mommy through the streets? Were they crying?