Thursday, March 3, 2011

Director's Report - Month of February 2011

I apologize to all blog fans but the month of February overwhelmed me with travel and conferences such that I was not able to keep the blog updated. I will try to fill in the month of February and then hopefully get back to a routine of updating at least every two weeks.
  • Alumni Conference in Aqaba - Feb 3rd-5th - Over 100 alumni and affiliates of the Arava Institute gathered in Aqaba, Jordan for the annual Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN) Conference. In our largest alumni conference to date, an amazing groupof individuals gathered to participate in workshops, see inspiring lectures, communication and planning sessions, alumni-led activities as well as social opportunities, networking, and cultural activities. It was a weekend full of energy and activity which included a lecture by a representative of Engineers Without Borders Palestine who spoke about his experiences working in the environmental field in the Palestinian Authority, small-group “open space” discussions, a “Decision Making and Time Management” workshop with a Jordanian management consultant, an alumni-only communication session which provided the opportunity for more personal connections based on shared experiences between alumni from various years, presentations and discussions on the structure of the alumni network, elections for a new alumni committee, and a keynote speech by T.H. Culhane on his solar energy projects. A number of alumni presented their current work to all conference participants to offer an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration and provide updates from their field and experiences. Amongst those who shared were Gonen Sagy, the coordinator of the Youth and Environmental Educational Peace Initiative (YEEPI) project run by AIES and funded by USAID, Yair Teller on the bio-digester project in Susya, updates on various environmental and peace building projects happening the Jerusalem area, our Jordanian alumni who are working on a project called Green Echo in Jordan, and a team of alumni who initiated the EcoME Centre.In addition to a full schedule the alumni and other conference participants held a Kabbalat Shabbat service, an open prayer session with music, various musical jams, and a dance party as well as many chances to socialize, network, meet new and old friends, and revitalize the feeling of strength and connection between alumni. At the end of the weekend each region (Jordan, Israel and Palestine) elected four representatives to sit on the new AAPEN committee with a chair for each region coming together to form the international committee. The conference ended with a feeling of progress, inspiration, and excitement for all the upcoming events, projects and potential collaborations and partnerships. (Report provided by Lindsey Zemler)
Our alumni having a serious discussion about sustainability in the Middle East
  • Trip to the US Feb - 6th -18th - Immediately after the conference, I travelled to the US in order to attend the Friends of the Arava Institue (FAI) Executive Committee meeting hosted by Board members Karen and Barry Fierst in their home in Maryland. The main purpose of the meeting was to finalize the FAI budget, work plan and to interview candidates for the position of FAI Executive Director. The meetings were very successful and the committee has chosen a new Executive Director for FAI, Daniel Schachter from Boston, Mass. In addition to the committee meeting, I also had the opportunity to meet with donors, foundation representatives, political leaders in Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Colorado. I also met with the JNF Board of the Mountain State Region who have raised over $800,000 towards their $ 1 M goal for the new dormitories. I had the opportunity as well to visit Eddie Sperling, our rider who was seriously injured on the 2010 Israel Ride, in the hospital where he was undergoing a procedure.
  • Opening of the Spring Semester 2011 -  On Tuesday, February 22nd, a group of 38 students, 4 Palestinians, 9 Jordanians, 13 Israelis, and 12 North Americans, arrived to Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Institute. Before classes begin, the students have a few days of orientation.  The first evening of orientation, the students and interns participated in some get to know you ice breakers and then the students were officially welcomed by the Arave Institute staff.  The next morning all of the students walked over to Dr. Elaine Soloway’s experimental orchards where she explained that she’s growing trees from Morocco and Jordan to see how they adapt to the climate of the Arava and understand their medicinal value and other traits.. The students then had their first Peace Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar session with Michelle Shachar and Dr. Uri Gordon.  Everyone had the opportunity to learn about one another through different activities. Later in the day, the students went on a hike followed by a Middle Eastern style gathering with the staff and faculty of the institute. On Thursday the students were taken on a regional trip. They went to Kibbutz Naot Smadar where they learned about the art center, saw wood working and got to learn about the construction of the building. The students also went to their organic winery and learned about organic agriculture and cheese production on the kibbutz. The students finished the day by taking a hike to Nachal Kasui pristine landscape above Ketura with sand dunes close to 100 feet high. The students frolicked in the sand for a half hour and then had a very nice lunch on the dunes.  Friday was course registration day. Everything went smoothly for the students. In the evening some students went to Friday night Shabbat services and everyone came to a very nice meal in the kibbutz dining hall.  On Shabbat about half of the students went on a beautiful Shabbat hike in the desert. On Sunday morning classes began. (Report provided by Josh Neiman)
  • International Renewable Energy Youth Conference - Feb 20th - 22nd This year, the first International Renewable Energy Youth Conference Competition was held in the Hevel Eilot Region as part of a broad focus on renewable energy and spring board for regional development Thirty two youths participated in the conference: 2 from Jordan, 12 from abroad (France, Germany, Italy, Britain, India, Romania, Latvia, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Serbia) and 16 from Israel. The competition was about creative solutions for energy storage. Participants also toured sustainable projects in the region. The participants stayed at the Keren Kolot Guest House and had the opportunity to visit the Arava Institute, the Research and Visitors Park and hear a lecture from Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed, head of the Arava Institute Center for Renewable Energy.  The competition winners created  a "fly wheel renewable energy storage system.  The atmosphere of the conference was interesting and exciting and introduced the participants to life in the Arava.
  • Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference - Feb 22nd - 24th - The fourth annual Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference was held in Eilat at the Herods and Dan Hotel. Over 2,000 people participated in the conference which once again brought together, entrepreneurs, scientists, policy makers and financers to discuss the promotion of renewable energy in the Middle East and the world. The conference began with the opening ceremony of the new Arava Power Company solar field, the first commercial size field to be licensed by the Israeli Electric Company. The APC field is located just south of the new Arava Institute Research and Visitors Park. Throughout the conference, both the new solar field and the Research and Visitors Park were flooded with visitors from high government officials, reporters, developers and other conference participants. On the final day, 4 bus loads of conference participants descended on the park, the field and the institute providing a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the institute's academic and research programs.
David Lehrer

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