Wilderness First Aid Training Helps Rescue Injured Hiker

The Abraham Path Initiative strives to play a supporting role to local stakeholders. By providing advice, as well as educational and logistical support, our hope is that locally-led efforts will help the path will grow to be an integral component of the region’s economic and cultural life. One way we accomplish this is by helping to develop a network of professional guides that can bring travelers to experience the Abraham Path in a safe and professional manner, providing everything from comprehensive certification through local universities to wilderness first aid training.

While first aid certification is the sort of thing one hopes to never have to use, it still always a huge relief to have those skills when the situation requires it. Therefore we are happy to hear about about a recent instance where the training we provided to local guides proved to be invaluable in the field. About a month ago, Ayman AbdAlKareem, who was one of the graduates of the first ever Jordanian WFA course, was leading a canyoneering trip in Wadi Hidan. While his group was having a short lunch break, he noticed that someone from another group was climbing up a cliff to jump into the water below. The fall was about 30 meters and despite a few people warning her not to, she took the leap.

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The pool and cliff where the accident occurred.

When she emerged after hitting the water, it was clear that she was having difficulty swimming and that something was wrong. Ayman immediately swam over to her and carefully brought her to the shore.

After assessing her and requesting her permission to provide medical treatment, he proceeded to coordinate an extraction from the canyon. They were in an inaccessible place, about two kilometers from the closest road. Furthermore, it turned out that she had broken her back which required extreme caution when moving here. Therefore the rescue operation relied on a lot of the unique training he received when he acquired his SOLO wilderness first aid certification.

After fashioning a stretcher out of ropes, sticks and life jackets, it took about three hours to stabilize her and get her up the trail to the awaiting ambulance. We are happy to report that although she required surgery to stabilize the break, she is expected to to make a full recovery.

Be sure to check out the photo album for the canyoneering trip, which is linked below – looks like they still managed to have a great time despite all the excitement!

Experience Jordan Trip Photos

Theatre Brings Community Based Tourism to the Classroom

The Abraham Path’s success depends entirely on local investment. Therefore, much of the efforts to build sustainable infastructure for tourism along the path involve increasing awareness and understanding among local communities. This outreach can involve everything from simply building personal relationships to running skill-building workshops or programs in local schools.

A great example of this is a play that Masar Ibrahim al-Khalil, our partner organization, commisioned to be written by Manal El-Kassis. The play had 13 showings, primarily in different villages along the path. It was mostly geared toward youth, using drama and comedy to introduce the concept of community based tourism as a way to share the culture and history of rural areas with travelers from around the world.

The performances were often a part of a larger school program, where students participated in discussions and prepared research projects about the path’s role in their communities.

Click on the images below to see a few pictures of students enjoying the events, but also be sure to keep an eye out for the soon-to-be-published video!

(All pictures by Elias Halabi/API)

Guide Training at Bethlehem University

Guides are fundamental to a good experience on the Abraham Path. Although it is possible to hike many sections of the route independently, a guide’s ability to contextualize the experience and bridge differences of culture and language makes for a far richer experience and we recommend that most first-time hikers take a guide along for their trip.

This need for more qualified guides has lead to the creation of a training program specifically designed to support the unique needs of guides along the Abraham Path. The yearlong course is held at Bethlehem University and enrolls 22 qualified students. Graduates will receive guide certification from the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, and the course is slated to be completed in the spring.

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The class is comprised mostly of young professionals, men and women in their thirties, many of whom are already working in the tourism industry and are excited to enter into a new market of alternative tourism.

Although the program’s primary focus is to provide a comprehensive training that provides graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to share the Abraham Path experience with walkers, students were also intentionally selected to be geographically distributed along all of the different regions along the trail. This will create a tight-knit network of tourism professionals with the expertise to make sure that hikers are fully supported every step of the way.

So although students spend every weekend learning about everything from history and geography to hands-on first aid education and navigation courses out in the field, the weekly meetings have also given students an opportunity to network and collaborate with each other; and they are already working to improve the path experience. A number of the students have already been acting as local guides along the path for some time, so some of the most valuable education comes simply from the opportunity to collaborate and share experiences. According to Anwar Dawabsheh, one of the students with experience guiding along the trail, he has had a chance to “discuss a lot of problems which face us in the field, and I think I develop myself in these two months more than any other time.”

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Providing opportunities for Syrian Refugees

In early March 2015, a group of 15 children – a mix of Jordanians and Syrian refugees – waymarked a section of the Abraham Path in the Ajloun Region of northern Jordan between Um Qais and the Wadi al-Arab Reservoir. The event was organized by local Abraham Path partner and guide Eisa Dweekat in coordination with Mercy Corps in an effort to offer fun and unique activities to the Syrian refugees living in the region. According to Eisa, “The children really enjoyed it and had a good time. They were good walkers and very helpful! I hope we can do more of these events in the future.”

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The cooperation between the Abraham Path Initiative and Mercy Corps is a powerful example of how the path can serve as a platform for engaging many different communities. Conflict impacts children and adolescents greatly, and can lead to stress and emotional shocks. Providing opportunities for community engagement and economic opportunity are crucial to empowering them to make good choices. The Abraham Path presents a locally led, sustainable engagement opportunity for these young people to invest in creating a positive change amidst incredibly difficult circumstances.

Painting Landscapes along the Abraham Path (gallery)

Last month, art students from Bethlehem visited the Bedouin community of Reshayda in order to paint landscapes from key spots along the Abraham Path. It was a diverse group, with participants  from bigger cities as well as smaller villages and in a lot of cases it was their first opportunity to spend time in nature and interact with the local Bedouin community. “It was the first time I went to the desert. I didn’t imagine that I would like it so much. I learned so much about the Bedouin culture and I had a chance to compare it with ours. My artwork is about two children I met there. Thanks to them, I discovered a new place and got to know people from my country who are living very close to us and yet according to us in an inaccessible place,” commented Manal Awwad from Beit Jala.

The completed paintings were displayed at an art exhibition at their school, The Dar Al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, where the audience could appreciate the artwork as well as learn about students’ interactions with the local community and nature. The soaring views of the Dead Sea and the stories they heard clearly provided plenty of inspiration to create a wonderful exhibit. We have collected the paintings in this gallery, and we hope you enjoy the works.

Photography Competition Held on the Abraham Path

Selection of competition entries:

On October 25th, 2014, students of Al Najah University of Nablus hiked from Nebi Musa to Mar Saba in order to participate in a photography competition held along the Abraham Path. Organized by Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil (MIAK), the activity took place thanks to a generous support of the World Bank State and Peacebuilding Fund.

Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil aimed to introduce the students to the variety of climates they can enjoy in their country. “Today the students are going to have a desert walk. Normally, the northern part of Palestine [where they are from] is an evergreen area because of a large number of olive trees,” said George Rishmawi, MIAK’s Executive Director and one of the guides for that day.

Most of the people who took part in the competition were Journalism students with an interest in photography. MIAK hoped to connect the students’ interest with the joy of walking in nature. The combination was a great success. Mohanad Assaf, a student from Qufr Laqf, was quick to list the views as a favorite subject to photograph: “I really like to take pictures of nature. I think that this hike is amazing, I love the views, and I would like to thank Masar Ibrahim for taking us here.”

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The winner of the competition, Wala Barham, took the first prize for a picture of Mar Saba at a distance. Photo Credit: Beata Andonia/API

The activity was concluded with an exhibition at Al Najah University on December 1st. The winner of the competition, Wala Barham, took the first prize for a picture of Mar Saba, one of the oldest continuously inhabited monasteries in the world. “I am more than happy. I didn’t expect that I will be the winner. I simply wished to enjoy the outdoors and my hobby – photography. I wish that we will be able to repeat this kind of a great experience and hike again on the Abraham Path.” The second-place winner, Ahmad Tamim, and the third-place winner, Mohammad Karaka, won two free hikes with Masar Ibrahim Al Khalil.

First Ever Wilderness First Aid Training in Jordan

On October 16-18,  the Abraham Path Initiative offered the first ever Wilderness First Aid course in Jordan, organized in partnership with outdoor tour company Experience Jordan. This intensive training took place in Amman city with 13 participants, representing various local outdoor tour operators as well as freelancers. Most participants were from the Amman area and work as guides for various outdoor outfitters, leading hiking, climbing and other adventure tours throughout the country.

“The outdoor scene is exploding in Jordan. There are many groups going out every weekend, but the standards of safety so far have been ad hoc. There is a real need for more formal training for wilderness guides,” said Mark of Experience Jordan.

API instructors David Landis and Anna Dintaman were trained at the SOLO School of Wilderness Medicine, an API partner based in Conway, New Hampshire. The training began with extensive practice of assessment techniques, designed to assess whether a patient’s life is in danger, whether a spinal injury is suspected, and what appropriate steps of treatment should be taken. Other skills taught included safely lifting and moving patients.

The second day of the training focused on specific injuries and illnesses, including musculoskeletal, traumatic, environmental, and medical injuries and emergencies. Students excelled at improvised splints, which use typical gear and items from nature to immobilize suspected broken bones.  A local Red Cross trainer also led a session about CPR in Arabic.

“Unlike classic First Aid courses, you learn how to improvise with what you have on a normal day outdoors,” said participant Amjad Shahrour. The course culminated with a practice scenario in which participants responded to a patient with major injuries. Fake blood and bruise makeup helped to make the scene feel more real, as the students organized themselves to assess the patient, monitor vitals, treat injuries and improvise a stretcher to carry the patient to further care. Students also performed one-on-one test scenarios in order to receive their certification.

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Proud recipients of SOLO WFA certification display their patches. Photo courtesy of Experience Jordan. 

API intends to continue supporting local partners in raising the standards of guide training and hopes to have the opportunity to train local trainers who can conduct future trainings.

Abraham Path Initiative Receives World Bank Grant

$2.3 Million Grant Bolsters Economic Development on the Abraham Path in the West Bank

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Autumn 2014 has seen a bustle of new activities popping up along the Abraham Path between Jenin and Hebron. Girl and boy scout trail clean-up events, university photography competitions, guided weekly walks, homestay trainings, trail analysis thru-hikes, and educational meetings with Palestinian municipalities are just a few examples of the hive of activity that is energizing the path.

These activities are largely possible thanks to a two-year, $2.3 million grant from the World Bank State and Peacebuilding Fund for a project entitled “Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim: Economic Development Across Fragile Communities.” The Abraham Path Initiative and Palestinian partner organizations will utilize the funds to engage more communities, bring more walkers, and increase job creation and income generation on the path, especially for women and youth.

“This investment by the World Bank allows one of the most innovative social change projects in the Middle East to grow to scale,” commented Stefan Szepesi, Executive Director of the Abraham Path Initiative.

The main elements of the grant include:

  • Investment in People and Institutions, including a comprehensive one-year guide training program by Bethlehem University and capacity building for local partner organizations
  • Path Development, including increasing trail distance in the north and south and improving maps and other practical hiker materials
  • Marketing, Business Development, and Communication, including outreach to tour operators, profiles on points of interest, and production of marketing materials
  • Action Research, including the publication of 10 research papers which analyze the impact of the Abraham Path and capture lessons about job creation through trail development

API partners with Masar Ibrahim al Khalil, a Palestinian nonprofit developing the path in the West Bank that is comprised of a union with the Rozana Association, the Siraj CenterPalestine Wildlife Society and Bethlehem University Institute for Community Partnership.

For more information on the World Bank grant, see www.worldbank.abrahampath.org. Follow our progress on social media!

 

Photo Credits: Sumaya Agha/API

“In every community, there is something special”

“This is a traditional culture, but there are a lot of things that we can share.  In every culture in the world, there are things that we are creating.  In every community, there is something special.  In every community, we need to accept and believe in that.”

Khadra Elsaneh, director of Sidreh – Lakiya Negev Weaving, carries a commanding presence, speaking with authority and confidence; yet in conversation, her tenderness toward her community and humble candor regarding her own personal growth are clear and startlingly human.  Time spent with Khadra reveals her to be a woman who has learned to holistically embrace, integrate, and adapt the varied aspects of her identity as necessary; and under her leadership, her Bedouin community is learning to do the same.

“People here are very warm to each other and to strangers.  If you come from outside, they want to give you everything,” she says of that community, painting a picture of benevolence and interconnectedness.  But even that warmth which seems to pervade her society must face the demands of a modernizing world.  Khadra recalls a time when survival in her desert village was entirely dependent upon a give-and-take system of generosity called al-‘auni.  If someone was struggling, members of the community helped him to overcome the obstacles facing him; later, he would do the same for others.  Khadra believes this lifestyle has been rendered nearly obsolete by modernization: “It used to be that you lived from the land – if you had a camel, you and your neighbors didn’t feel hungry.  Now, if you don’t have money, you’re hungry.”  The wealth of the earth was easier to share with community members than concrete currency.

While recognizing this transition, Khadra and her community tenaciously cling to the value attached to their land, explaining that “We want the younger generation to feel like they’re part of this land, part of this life, part of this community.  We have modern houses, but we still have sheep and chickens and horses and camels.”  Khadra acknowledges the necessity for change, but steadfastly believes that change can be implemented in a way that both embraces her community’s heritage and moves them forward.

Enter Sidreh.  Founded in 1998, the nonprofit organization brings Bedouin women together to support one another and their community by sharing their traditional weaving skills with the rest of the world.  Through Khadra’s tireless efforts, the organization quickly gained recognition on an international scale.  The demands of running an international business brought a wave of firsts to the community: the first fax machine, the first telephone, the first website, the first female lawyer…

Despite these modern innovations, however, Sidreh’s work allows the women to remain rooted in something they have known well since childhood: the inherited art of weaving.  Once, this art was practiced alone in the home.  Sidreh creates a community of women who weave together and, by selling their products, are empowered to support their families.

And their families are beginning to recognize the power these women hold.  Khadra recounts tales of trips to Jerusalem, where children saw their mothers’ crafts in elegant restaurants and hotels.  Only then, she says, could they realize how special the women’s work is.

As her own community is beginning to appreciate the value of Sidreh’s work, so are many other communities.  “When foreigners come, they learn and feel how strong the women are.”  The joy of demonstrating this strength to others excites Khadra.  “We really want Abraham Path people to come here,” she says, “because now we know how to share this community with others.”

As Khadra finished telling us this, as if on cue, a young woman walked through Sidreh’s facilities, a group of international tourists in tow.  We watched her begin to explain the weaving process to the foreigners; Khadra leaned in and whispered to us, telling us that the girl’s father had been adamantly opposed to the idea of his daughter learning English and working outside of the house.  Inspired by the work she saw women doing at Sidreh, though, she stood up to him and came to work with the organization.  Now, while I observed the girl’s interactions with the tourists, I marveled at her flawless English and at the ease and authority with which she handled the group.

Bringing us one more cup of Arabic coffee before we left, Khadra asked if we wanted sugar.  “Not long ago, people here never drank coffee with sugar.  Their lives were hard, not sweet.  Now, though,” she said with a laugh, “almost no one drinks their coffee without sugar.”

 

“I Would Like to Be Outstanding”

“I would like to be outstanding,” says Dina and then smiles. “There are not many female guides in this area.” Dina was the only woman who attended the Abraham Path’s training for the local guides organized by the Rozana Association in the village of Araba, located southwest of Jenin. Initially, she joined another workshop held for future hosts along the path, which was run at the same time; but after a while, she decided that she preferred to learn about the possibilities of becoming a guide and joined to the guide course as the only woman in the class. “I already knew how to welcome visitors in my house,” she says.

Dina became interested in tourism after taking some courses related to the field at her university. But she really became convinced that this was truly what she wanted to do in her life after hosting a visitor from Japan. During that time, Dina showed her guest a number of interesting sites in Araba. She took the Japanese woman to the Abd al-Hadi palaces located in the village’s historic center. There, by chance, she met Abu Ayman, a local guide, who told her about the Abraham Path’s training.

“Being a guide has changed my character,” admits Dina. Today, she is proud of the fact that because of regular walking she became not only stronger physically but also mentally. She is glad to share her knowledge about the region with the people from around the world.

“When I walked from Araba to Sanur for the first time, I got very tired. But every next time it was only better. Now I reached the point that I cannot wait for the next trip.” Dina, who comes from the small and, as she says, “closed” village of Kufeirat was not used to walking at all. “We were always moving by car and not really going out much,” she says. Her situation changed recently when she got married and moved to Araba. Dina’s husband supports and encourages her to be a local guide.

As a child, Dina did not have a lot of opportunities to meet many people. “I knew only my closest cousins,” she admits.  But now, thanks to her involvement with the Abraham Path, she has a chance to expand her local contacts and also to meet many people coming from different cultures and origins.

Dina thinks that her in-depth knowledge of Kufeirat and Araba – two villages located along the Abraham Path – is a great advantage in her work. Having grown up in the area, she can spice up her guiding with a number of regional stories. For example, she often mentions to walkers that Kufeirat is located next to a hill which is called Musallah, which comes from the Arabic word for prayer. Local tradition remembers the hill as a place where Abraham himself once prayed.

Dina would like to invite everyone to join her in walking the Abraham Path and to let her be their guide between Araba and Sanur.