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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

Wilderness First Aid Training

By Anna Dintaman

Casual observers in the West Bank city of Beit Sahour may have recently been surprised to see a group of locals out in the hot sun carrying each other on tarps, bandaging fake wounds, using found materials to splint joints, and setting up improvised shelters. On September 6-8, 2013, the Abraham Path Initiative lead a Wilderness First Aid Training for Palestinian guides co-organized with local partners Masar Ibrahim, Siraj Center, PWLS, and Rozana. This 3-day course was the first of its kind in the Middle East, with 16 local guides and escorts from all over the West Bank receiving certification.

The SOLO School of Wilderness Medicine in Conway, New Hampshire generously sponsored the instructor training for instructors David Landis and Anna Dintaman. The course was held at the Palestinian Wildlife Society (PWLS) in Beit Sahour, and PWLS director Imad Atrash led a session on wildlife in Palestine. The topics of the course included patient assessment, environmental emergencies, traumatic injuries, medical emergencies, improvising materials, and moving patients. Participants practiced hands-on skills with a variety of scenarios from treating simple cuts, to splinting broken bones, to evacuating patients with suspected spinal injuries. The Palestine Red Crescent Society lead a CPR training in Arabic. An additional session about outdoor leadership was included in the program, with an emphasis on leadership styles, risk management, and decision-making skills.

Student responses were enthusiastic, and many requested more advanced training in the future. The Abraham Path Initiative feels great pride and satisfaction in contributing to the preparedness of local guides and improving the safety and piece of mind for hikers.

 

In Bethlehem

By William Ury

Today was a day of rest and visiting Bethlehem with a shorter walk.

In the morning, after a hardy breakfast of hummus and pita bread and olives and thyme, we visited the Shepherd’s Field, which is right near where we are staying, a beautiful place that commemorates the arrival of the angel to tell the shepherds that Jesus is to be born.

What a spectacular day it is — pure blue sky and the light is so beautiful on the stones and the hills! It is hard sometimes to believe that this is also a place of such conflict and darkness. There is a simple stone chapel here that blends in with the land and inside it are lovely frescoes of the scenes of the visitation with the shepherds, the surprise in their eyes and devotion in their hearts. There are many caves here — we entered one that might have been like the one where Jesus was born. In the back of the caves, the custom was to keep the goats and sheep. That may explain why they say Jesus was born in a stable — Mary may have sought privacy in the back of the cave where they kept the animals. Standing in the cave, it was easy to picture the scene in the mind’s eye. Somehow being in these places, it brings it all to life.

From the Shepherd’s Field, we went to visit the Church of the Holy Manger, an ancient structure built over the traditional cave of the birth. The first time a group of Abraham’s Path travelers visited five years ago, there was no one here. Now there are more visitors from all over the world, a good sign for local tourism. In the cave itself, one group stood around in a circle and sang a hymn in Russian — such beautiful voices. There is a metal star set in the stone that marks the birth spot and another place right across where people believe the cradle sat. Imagine all the devotion expressed here over the last twenty centuries by so many thousands of pilgrims, queens and kings, shepherds and priests, women and men and children pouring out their prayers…

We were hosted for lunch at Bethlehem University, a partner on the Abraham Path, filled with students milling around speaking excitedly with their friends. Over two-thirds were young women — it was explained to us that local families preferred to keep their daughters close to home so they send them to B.U. A lot of life here. A young Palestinian-American woman sat with us and peppered us with good questions about the possibilities for tourism in Palestine.

In the late afternoon, we took a beautiful leisurely stroll for an hour or so setting out from Solomon’s Pools, great reservoirs carved in stone that were built back in Roman times or much earlier to give water to Jerusalem. We descended through a lovely valley to the village of Artas where there is a convent of Mary. It is so fertile here that they give it the name the Closed Gardens or the Closed Paradise, a phrase taken from the Bible. It is through this valley they say that King Solomon walked with the lady of his love — and where perhaps he composed the Song of Songs, one of the most inspired pieces of biblical poetry.

Just outside the old convent, we met a nun from India (Kerala), strong and gentle, whose family traces its Christian roots back to St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus, who, it is said, traveled all the way to India. Yifa, a Chinese Buddhist nun who has joined our party for the walk, posed for a picture with her, the two nuns, Catholic and Buddhist, from India and China, here in Palestine. Such unexpected combinations happen again and again on this path, dissolving boundaries, stereotypes, and reminding us of our shared humanity.