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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)

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.

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

“On the Abraham Path, I feel 20 years younger”

“I’m a smoker and I’m not a young man; but on the Abraham Path, I feel 20 years younger.” When travelers walk with local guide Abu Ayman today, they would never guess that he was not very confident in his walking skills on his first walk on a scouting trip between his village of Araba and nearby Sanur. “I wasn’t sure if I could walk all that way, so I was planning to duck out halfway through an olive grove and go home,” he jokes.

But when he arrived in Sanur, he thought to himself, “That wasn’t that hard.” And he began to think that if he was able to walk from Araba to Sanur, surely he could walk all the way to Nablus, and then to Hebron, and perhaps the whole way across the Middle East! He has begun walking to work every day, three kilometers each way, and has worked as a local guide on almost all of the walks in the northern sections of the Abraham Path.

One treat of walking with Abu Ayman is his knowledge of plants and herbs found in nature. One moment, he will hand a walker a springy, succulent sprig of wild asparagus; the next, a juicy, wild fennel bulb. Depending on the season, he is often gathering greens and herbs to take home for his wife to cook into tasty traditional dishes. “We learned about nature as children. We spent a lot of time outdoors, learning about the plants and animals and landscapes,” he says.

Abu Ayman enjoys getting to know people from around the world who come to walk the path. “I want travelers to know that people here are not like what they see in the media. We are kind and welcoming people, with culture and traditions. This is a beautiful area and we invite people to come experience it with us.”

“The Relationship We Have with Visitors is Beautiful.”

“When we have visitors, I give them cooking lessons. I take them to the orchards, and we pick plums, and then I teach them how to make jam. One visitor went back to America and held an Arabic dinner party. She made a lot of dishes that I taught her, like maqlouba and gallaya.  They loved it.  She put photos of the party on Facebook. The relationship we have with visitors is beautiful.”

When Maysoun and her family first began hosting guests from the Abraham Path in their home, the presence of visitors from around the world seemed strange.  Neither she nor her neighbors were used to seeing foreigners around their homes, and they didn’t know how to interact with them.  Now, though, Maysoun and her family and community have come to value the tourists who stay with them and the intercultural friendships that are formed during the time they spend together.  Maysoun appreciates the opportunities to talk with a broad array of people and to learn about other places and cultures, and she loves watching her children play with other children from around the world.  As much as her family enjoys learning from their visitors, though, they are even more eager to share their own experiences – to show guests what games they play, how they harvest olives, what their lives are like.  For Maysoun, the arrival of new guests signals a chance to share one of her great talents – her incredible wealth of culinary knowledge and skills.  The world of Middle Eastern cooking is one that Maysoun knows well; and introducing new friends to that world has been a rewarding experience for her that, in turn, has created educational and culturally rich experiences for travelers.

The opportunities presented to Maysoun and her family by the Abraham Path extend beyond just cultural exchange.  Maysoun’s daughter Hiba is currently in fourth grade, and her parents realize that she will be finished with her primary education in only eight short years.  They know that sending Hiba to university will cost them a significant amount of money, and the income brought in from the homestay allows them to start saving for those expenses now.

How else has the family planned to use the added income?  They recently bought a laptop, which they use to maintain the long-distance friendships they’ve been building with Abraham Path walkers; and they hope to soon be able to buy a camera.  Other than that, their main goal is to invest in their home – Maysoun intends to expand their house and farm someday so that they can comfortably accommodate more guests.  She hopes her family will never stop hosting hikers, she says, and that the number of travelers who stay with her family will only increase as time goes on. Expanding their house will allow them to expand the capacity of their hospitality and, at the same time, to expand the range of experiences and friendships available to them between the walls of their own home.

Foreign visitors may have seemed strange and intimidating once; but as far as Maysoun is concerned, they’ve become a permanent fixture in her family’s life and home.

A New Role as a Kurdish Village Guide

Outside her brightly painted green and yellow house, 18-year-old Nadile makes sure that her guests have what they need for the village tour. “Hat. Sunscreen. Water. Good shoes.” She lists the items clearly in English from a piece of paper covered with notes. When everyone is ready, she will lead them around the tiny Kurdish village of Göllü where she was born and raised.

“I am a village guide,” she says, again in English, carefully but confidently. This is a new role for her. Since 2009, people from all over the world have come to her family’s homestay. As the oldest of five children, she has always helped prepare and serve food for guests, including making a welcome cake from the family’s own flour, eggs, and milk. This spring, however, a few visitors asked to see more of the village. Nadile enthusiastically volunteered and discovered a chance to use the English that she had begun learning with a project volunteer.

Now she leads a complete tour, including an ancient tomb site, a view of Mount Nemrut, an abandoned stone quarry, her uncle’s orchard of pistachio trees and grapes vines, the remnants of her grandparents’ original mud and stone houses, and a hidden cave where, according to the story, a princess was kept during times of fighting. Sometimes a younger sibling will accompany the group, wandering off to reappear with a handful of green almonds or a bushel of fresh chickpeas to be eaten from the pod.

Nadile takes pride in sharing the natural abundance of Göllü. She picks leaves from a camomile plant and explains how to make a soothing tea. She makes a hair ornament from some yellow flowers and a leaf with spiky teeth and jokingly passes it to Seth, an American who just finished a Peace Corps mission in Ghana and is clearly enjoying some vacation time in this unique setting.

At 5PM, she points out the herds of sheep returning from their grazing to be milked. Her family has 100 sheep and 70 lambs this season. When her mother Ayten finishes the evening milking, Nadile and her sister Fadile show guests how the fresh milk becomes the cheese that they serve at breakfast and sell in the neighboring city of Sanliurfa. “I am a food guide, too,” says Nadile with a smile.

She says the best thing about the project is meeting people from other countries and seeing what good people they are. She also recognizes that her family offers something special–“Everything here is natural, organic,” she says in Turkish. “Guests can be comfortable here.” Her hope for the future is to continue learning English and guiding visitors.

Written by Mary Leighton

“A Chance for Palestinian Women to Be Self-Dependent”

Few people speak more eloquently and passionately about the Abraham Path – or Masar Ibrahim – than Rola Ibrahim Jadallah, or Dr. Rola, as she is known in her community of Arraba.

As a mother of four and an assistant professor of biology at the Arab American University, Dr. Rola has plenty to keep her busy. On top of that, she was recently elected as Arraba’s deputy mayor.

In all these roles, the path means something special to her: “I like the name Ibrahim. It was my father’s name. People with that name have a certain personality. They are leaders and broad thinkers. Ibrahim is the father of prophets.  Because I love this name and I saw how the name affected the personality of my father, I named my son Ibrahim. His personality is different from others. He’s a leader who wants to help others. I am telling him: you are Ibrahim.”

Hospitality is one of the most important values associated with Abraham/Ibrahim, says Dr. Rola. “According to our traditions you must be generous as a host. There is an old saying that states that any guest should be able to stay with you for at least three days without any questions asked.”

As deputy mayor, Dr. Rola welcomed the recent extension of the path to the Jenin region that included Arraba in the Abraham Path. “The path allows us to be connected to the world. It can increase income for local families, and it provides a chance to introduce people into other cultures, to listen to the happiness and sadness of the stories of others. This type of tourism is a chance for Palestinian women to be self-dependent, create their own businesses. I look at the Masar Ibrahim as cultural exchange. Young people are speaking English with visitors and being guides from their own home; you can imagine how that affects their self-confidence.”

The image of the Middle East in the rest of the world is often negative. For Dr. Rola, this is an additional motive to make the project succeed: “We cannot separate our lives from political issues, and at the same time we are not the ones representing politics in the media. So my dream is to divide the issue in two: at the top are the people who make the decisions. But the bottom is the community. The Masar Ibrahim allows for an exchange of ideas between regular people. That will provide the real picture for visitors and those will be your ambassadors. Maybe after some time it will affect the people at the top.”

 

Tourism in Their Own Back Yard

Rozana Association holds a hospitality training

By Anna Dintaman

Photos courtesy of Rozana Association and Konstantin Hoshana

“I get to host the first guests!” “ No, I get to host the first guests!”

A friendly argument broke out during a coffee break in a one-day hospitality training hosted at the Arraba Municipality in the northern West Bank. Thirty-eight women from local villages along the Abraham Path in the Jenin district gathered to learn about the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim, leadership skills, professionalism, food safety, and housekeeping.

Enthusiasm ran high as the women participated in lectures and discussions with the goal of preparing them to operate homestays for hikers on the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim. Trainer Malak el Masri encouraged participants to accentuate the positive and to view their home villages through the eyes of a tourist. Masar Ibrahim director George Rishmawi introduced the group to the highlights of the Abraham Path/Masar Ibrahim, and emphasized the way that the path connects the villages to each other as well as to world famous historical and cultural sites.

Upstairs, a group of 14 local men and women participated in a trekking guide-training workshop, with the topics of trails in Palestine, history, flora & fauna, and community based tourism. The goal of this training was to prepare local trekking guides to lead hikers through their villages and the surrounding landscapes.  Raed Saadeh, co-founder of the Rozana Association and the Network for Experiential Palestinian Tourism Organizations, presented about social tourism, including the Sufi trails in the Birzeit area. Dr. Walid Salim Basha of Jenin presented about the plants and animals of the Jenin area, with his love and appreciation of nature shining through in his energetic enthusiasm.

The participants from both trainings enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal together, prepared by the Arraba Women’s Association. In spite of the chilling wind, many meaningful conversations took place over the rice, meat, stuffed grape leaves, chickpeas, salads, and dark Arabic coffee cups. The setting of the training, in the beautifully restored 19th century palace of Abdil Hadi, added to the ambiance and excitement around tourism in rural Palestinian communities. From the roof of the historic building, a magnificent view extends, inspiring participants to notice the beauty and tourism potential in their own back yards.