Sunday, April 10, 2011

Director's Report March 27th to April 8th, 2011

Student Culture Night
     On Monday, March 28th, the students gathered for their first culture night of the semester. It was a nice community event as many staff, kibbutz members and their families also attended. The evening started off with an American presentation of how to make a proper peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There were then a few presentations about Jordanian and American culture through pictures. The Israelis presented an extremely funny skit about an Israeli Passover seder and after that there was a beautiful Arab wedding ceremony. There were a few music pieces preformed and a few poems read as well. To finish the night the Arab students led us in a dabke (Arabic dance) and from there we danced the night away.It was another very successful evening and it was very nice to see the community come together and celebrate everyone's culture. Report provided by Josh Neirman

Food Sustainability Workshop
     Tali Adini, Director of EcoPaths and I attended a Food Sustainability Workshop held on March 28th and 29th at the Nes Ziona guest house in the Carmel Mountains.  The guest house is located on a mountain top that overlooks areas  that were part of the carmel forest fire disaster in the fall of last year.  The fire did not reach the guest house but came very close.
     Two years ago, the Arava Institue, together with the Heschel Center held Israel's first ever sustainable food confenrece, "Food for Thought".  Ever since then, the Heschel Center and the institute have been deliberating on how to bring in additional partners and create a real coaltion of individuals and organizations who are working together to promote a more sustainable food system in Israel.  Heschel used the funding for its annual think tank workshop MAOF to fund a 2 day coalition building workshop.  About 20 people attended including  representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Local Governments Council, a variety of non-governmental organizations working on food security, nutrition, vegeterianism, sustainable food supply as well as organic farmers and interested individuals.  The program included round-table discussions, "coffee house" discussions, "speed dating" and other creative ways to put on the table issues such as the food supply chain, the role of the major supermarket chains, government impediments to small local food supply industries, food security, nutrion, processed food, organic farming, farmers markets etc.
     The two day workshop produced an agend and a variety of projects that will be followed up through ad-hoc committees and continued coalition building. One of the important results of the workshop is the development of a Sustainable Food Covenant which will help the newly formed coalition to create a common agenda and action plan. Tali and I agreed that the conference was very helpful and that the Arava Institue must find a way to continue our involvement in the initiative.

Student Water Trip
     On Monday April 4th the students departed on a three-day field trip for the Water Management course. On the first morning the group visited the sinkholes in the Dead Sea area and learned about the Dead Sea Works company that extracts minerals and resources from the increasingly destabilized Dead Sea. Dr. Clive Lipchin, an expert in water management in the Middle East, acted as tour guide and teacher, gave information about many sites along the way and provoked discussion on issues the students are learning about in class. As they drove along the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, the students also learned about what is happening to the Dead Sea and about water resources on the Jordanian side.

     After viewing several areas near the Dead Sea, the students arrived at a swimming beach for lunch, just in time for the first rainfall of the trip. The students witnessed the rare sight of large waterfalls cascading from the cliffs of Ein Gedi and as the journey continued north many more waterfalls could be seen from the road. Very fitting for a trip designed to learn about the water systems and resources in the region, the students stopped at a large waterfall next to the road and watched the roaring water fall from the towering cliffs above, flood the road and flow into the Dead Sea. Successfully bypassing the area through the rain and floods, the bus continued and made several more stops in the Dead Sea region for more lectures from Clive. The group then stopped at the Lido Junction, which sits at the northern tip of the Dead Sea. There the group discussed issues related to the history of the Dead Sea Region, in relation to transboundary ownership and management. They  discussed the ways in which the area has changed as the waters have receded and ownership has changed hands over time. They arrived at EcoME, an alumni project in the West Bank that is easily accessed by Israelis and Palestinians, learning about a successful alumni venture and were hosted overnight by Arava Institute alumni Yair Wahle, Rina Kedem, Ilana Meallem, Jennifer Golding and the rest of the EcoME team.
     Flexibility was required of both students and staff when the planned hike had to be cancelled due to flooding in the desert, and the group set off through the lightly falling rain to a natural spring north of Jericho to hear about the spring that provides water for the settlements and villages in the area. The visit included a lecture from Clive and an improptu trash cleanup at the spring. From there the students continued to Uja village for lunch and then a visit to a family home to learn about the sewage treatment systems that individual households maintain without relying on waste water infrastructure. In the afternoon the group visited a village in East Jerusalem to understand the problems of wastewater systems related to the political situation and the interests of Palestinians and Israelis working together on wastewater management. There the group also visited a current student's home and heard from a community member about the efforts to manage water in the village.
     The group had dinner in East Jerusalem at a restaurant owned by the family of alumnus Ihab Baraket and spent the night in Nes Harim in the Jerusalem mountains. They woke up early to arrive at the Palmachim Desalination plant south of Tel Aviv and were given an in-depth educational tour of the facility to learn about alternative water resources in a region that has very few (and those are rapidly depleting). After several hours at the plant the group visited the Palmachim beach, which was recently saved from development by an environmental campaign.  One of the campaign activists came to speak with the students at Ketura earlier in the semester to teach them about activism in the Environmental Leadership course. After lunch, sand-castle building, volleyball, and swimming, the students left the beach and arrived at the last stop on the field trip: the biggest waste water treatment facility in the world, the Shafdan waster water treatement plant. After an hour of education, discussion and questions the students were able to tour the entire facility by bus and see the treatment of sewage firsthand!
     Despite a rain cloud following the bus around the country, the trip was successful in educating the students on the many issues of water in the region. The discussions had during the trip are relevant to Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians and students from around the world because it's clear that no water source or treatment system can be considered without thinking of the other people who rely on the same bodies of water to provide fresh water. The trip was also an opportunity for the AIES community to travel together, visit alumni, visit  student's homes, and recognize the borders that are sometimes overlooked while learning in a classroom on campus. Report provided by Lindsey Zemler

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