Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day #20 of 28: 1-Jan-2009

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly."-Richard Bach

Welcome butterfly! Welcome 2009!

Jerusalem: clear skies, bitterly cold (for Jerusalem; this ain't Chicago), near freezing. Slight chance of snow tomorrow.

Taking a break from "other" reporting today.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day #19 of 28: 31-Dec-2008

Gaza death count nearing 400. Let's start today with a picture of a 4-year old girl, dead. 4 years old. If she were your daughter, your little girl?

1 day later, part of "Prognostication #2" is already coming true. Not Tel-Aviv, but Beer-Sheba. Why not just everybody stop? And that's not just a rhetorical statement, or is it?

**NGO Endeavors**
My work with the local NGO -- who by the way, has staff in Gaza (as of yesterday they were all physically safe but psychologically & emotionally traumatized, living in real fear of death from hour to hour, day by day. One of the directors called a staff member in Gaza, and she just broke down and cried, not knowing what the next moment would bring to her, her daughter and husband) -- goes on, albeit massively derailed from the original plan and the progress made during my first 14-days here. Software requirements continue to be discussed. A 1hour demonstration has been outlined to take place either 5-Jan or 6-Jan 2009. Their online accounting, which I learned just yesterday is GAAP compliant, will expedite the setup and configuration of the constituent and course regisration software, if/when selected. So, all in all, this continues to move forward inspite of the very difficult tensions not only in Gaza but in general around the entire area.

Day #18 of 28: 30-Dec-2008, cont.

Little peaceful protest at a US Consulate office in Jerusalem as seen from my hotel:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Day #18 of 28: 30-Dec-2008

350+ death count in Gaza. (I'm getting conflicting reports on the exact numbers -- somewhere between 320-350 -- but given that the fighting is not over, I'll leave today's number as posted.)

**Protests Spread**

  1. Tanks & ground troops will enter the strip and chew their way through the territory.
  2. Long-range (un-predicted) missiles will strike Tel-Aviv and/or heat-seeking missiles will take out F16s fighters (un-predicted).
  3. Northern Israel border area will be breached (while all public focus is on Southern Israel)
Hope I'm wrong on all accounts.

On a lighter note... While I was channel surfing in Jerusalem hotel, I came across two very intense sports commentators each defending their reasons why futbol team "such-and-such" is better than the other guys. A heavy dose of reality, that inspite of what may be going on in one place, the status quo marches along unchanged. Enjoy the picture.

Sports Commentators

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day #17 of 28: 29-Dec-2008

9am local time:
Report from UN citing that 9 UN staff have been killed in Gaza.

7am local time:
No new news here. More death. More destruction. Smallish outbursts outside of Gaza, but trivial in comparison. Interesting observation from watching nearly 24/7 coverage on one channel or another (Aljazeera Arabic/English and BBC): nobody changes anyone else's opinion. Those fervently blaming the other side continue to do so. Zero sum game. Sad. Beyond sad. Day #2 of 3-day mourning throughout the Palestinian world.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day #16 of 28: 28-Dec-2008

Death toll continues to rise. Now at 271 dead, 700+ wounded. There will be more. This has now been called upon to be the 3rd intifada? Sad times indeed. So much for a peaceful ending to 2008 or beginning to 2009. This will cause pain for many people regardless of nationality, race, religion or creed.

Death & Destruction

Gaza: Israel F-16 fighters strike Gaza targets. Death toll up to 155 and rising. Hamas just concluded a Press conference. This escalation will only result in retaliation. More death.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day #15 of 28: 27-Dec-2008

Crisp air outside. Thin clouds veil an otherwise crystal sky.

Today: 1st ever "General Assembly" for this NGO in its 60+ year history!! Elections also a first, and the result will be a newly elected Board of Directors, where the term per the new constitution, is a 4-year term. Historical occasion and glad to be able to witness this event.

Intend to post here some interesting concepts found here about day-to-day transportation. (And you thought your commute was bad! :) Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day #14 of 28: 26-Dec-2008, Halfway Point

Today marks the midway point of my work and stay here: lat=31.7857, lon=35.2007 Lots to do still!

Invitation to dinner with CEO and his wife -- at the Ambassador. Fan-tab-ulous dinner, wonderful fellowship and rich conversation! What a treat!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day #13 of 28: 25-Dec-2008, Christmas Day

Merry Christmas!

Heavy rains during the night, now stopped. Lingering clouds waited only a few minutes, continuing to rain. Much needed here in this part of the country/world. A welcome sight!

Past, Present, Future - Jerusalem
Christmas Day Photo

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day #12 of 28, 24-Dec-2008, Christmas Eve

Rain. 300 days of sunshine a year. And today it has to rain. The Shepherd Nights' Celebration in Beit-Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem, is tonight. Outside. :( Well by then perhaps the rain will be finished for the day.

4:30pm, Shepherd's Grotto. No rain, but fairly cold, for here. Small, incredibly international group of people. Very interactive worship service with readings and singing in both Arabic and English. (First time ever, I've been singing Silent Night and on my left and right both people were singing in Arabic. Stereo Arabic :) We were all singing to the same tune, just each in his own language. Truly fascinating.

6pm, Brief visit to the introduction of the Shepherd's Nights Festival. Somewhere around 800-900 people, many, many children -- some with their families, some from local schools, and yet others from local orphanages. Wonderful to see this gathering. (Unfortunately, my ride had to leave so I too left early.) Seeing the crowd and the arrangements, however, leaves no doubt there was fun to be had for all.

Scanning the stage prior to the event beginning

Ceremonial Opening by:
Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal (Arabic: رياح حنة ابو العسل

Ellen's Birthday Cake & Christmas cake as well!

7:30pm-12:30am - HUGE dinner gathering, 35-40 people, at Michele's home. His wife had prepared massive amounts of food. Two French guests were visiting, so French was added to the already fluid mix of Arabic and English. Good times, great food, wonderful conversation! As it neared midnight, we watched the Christmas broadcast from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Dignitaries abounded. Cannot even begin to list them all: PNA President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, others from Dubai, consulate ambassadors from many countries among them, and most important from a ceremony perspective: Italy, France, Spain.

Day #11, Part II - Family Bring & Share

Photos/Video clips of a wonderful evening event, including Santa distributing gifts to the children. Song, prayer, balloons, food, fun for all! Enjoy!

Informal arrangement of seating allowed for TONS of fun for the children and the balloons. Also where the swarm of children like 5-year olds following the ball in youth soccer.

Andre' (CEO finished welcoming the people); hands off to Elham

Board Chairman sharing a scripture reading.

University Art/Music student(s) performing

Children playing "musical chairs"

Elham leading a song. Santa's arrival!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Day #11 of 28, 23-Dec-2008

Well the whopping 1.5% of the population that celebrates Christmas here is getting ready to do so. If you think about it, imagine a party of 200 people, 3 of them are celebrating. It's ironic that in the "Holy Land", this event is marginalized to the point of non-existence -- except for the fact that a lot of folks travel to the Holy Land during these special times. So, here too, there's a highly visibile and important element of "retail sales" inexorably linked to this event.

What follows is a series of pictures of Santa Claus and video clips of the 1st ever Childrens' Christmas Celebration here, featuring Ballet & Dance.

Here comes Santa!!

And a couple of still shots of Santa and the Kids!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day #10 of 28, 22-Dec-2008 - Shrapnel

Today calls for another, my now 3rd visit to Beit-Sahour to visit with their Membership guru Anton to discuss their current home-grown version (in MS-Access) of a potential Membership system, listen to his thoughts.

Actually, unplanned, I was shown their current accounting system, made by an award-winning local company BISAN. This changed my entire thinking about what their potential membership and program registration solutions can now be. More later in the week, or even next week, on this topic.

(click image to enlarge)

This YMCA logo on a whiteboard was made by children of the community of Beit-Sahour. The unusual characteristic of this art work is its material -- shrapnel (!!). The children used pieces of shrapnel from exploded shells that had struck this facility during the early days of the 2nd intifada.

*note: you can also see glue marks that spell out YMCA in the center. The director told me that originally that all those letters of Y-M-C-A were actual bullets. But he said that some of the other children, over time, had taken them off the whiteboard -- probably as souvenirs.

Also, I was shown an upright piano, that still has a large-caliber bullet stuck in the side of the wooden upright section!

Day #9 of 28, 21-Dec-2008

GOOD MORNING J-E-R-U-S-A-L-E-M!!! (a la Robin Williams' style). "Free" day today. Quiet morning even for a Sunday here. BIG Holy week ahead!

Wandered around the immediate area taking in the scenery and getting a feel for my immediate neighborhood. Weather accommodated nicely. Cloudy but no rain. Found the neighborhood "Cellcom" (mobile phone) store - closed. Will try again tomorrow. Looking for GPRS (data) capabilities to add to the N95. A want, not a need.

Cracked open Seth Godin's "Tribes"; saving the last 20 pages. Good read. Quick. Reinforcing not so much earth-shattering.

Meeting with staff for drinks later this evening. All in all, a relaxing day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day #8 of 28, 20-Dec-2008 (updated 6:45pm)

Just in case your Middle East history is a bit rusty (mine was/is), here's a reminder of how different things were -- completely reversed -- as little as just 64 years ago. (I say "little" as 64yrs in the history of Jerusalem is but a drop in the proverbial bucket.)

Below is a picture from 1944 of Five Palestine Pounds, the currency at the time.

Today, of course, Palestine does not have its own currency; they use the New Israel Shekel. There is also no such thing as a Palestine "passport". Lucky ones have Jordanian passports or Syrian passports that allow them passport privileged travel. The others, still lucky, have an Israeli ID, which upon special permission, can allow them to travel to specific countries for specific purposes. The unlucky ones cannot travel outside of the West Bank and/or Gaza at all.

Many people have opinions on the above; these, however, are simply the facts. True.

The rest of this post will be audio/visual w/ pictures & video. Enjoy!

Starting with a bit about The 2009 Olive Tree Campaign.

(Below: On-site Beit-Sahour video clip)

(click to enlarge)

(Below: Shepherd's Grotto plaque video clip)

(below construction details)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day #7 of 28, 19-Dec-2008

Here in the Old City, the religious trifecta: Friday, Muslim; Saturday, Jewish; Sunday, Christian. Today is the 1st of 3 special holy days.

I was told the Arabic writing is in "Persian" style. Also told that was odd for 1965 given the circumstances, etc. Well, I think it's just beautiful!

Day #6, 18-Dec-2008, Beit-Sahour

"Amplify" was the word of the day today, and the operative word going forward in my work here with my NGO brothers/sisters.

On the way to/from Beit-Sahour the usual checkpoint show passports/IDs, stop the car, open the trunk (making sure as NGO workers we don't have any WMD or illegal substances ;) - we didn't so they let us pass, both times, and we completed our round-trip visit without incident. However, the return trip was enhanced enormously by the best Falafels in the country. True.

Have coordinated a possible meeting on Monday 22-Dec with NGO director and independent news reporting agency -- in a first effort at identifying our "amplifiers" to help us spread the work of this very good work, farther & faster. Stay tuned...

*notes: thanks to a social media friend, @sleepdog on Twitter, I'm including here a link to a powerful presentation about "Amplified Individuals, Amplified Organizations" Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Art Lovers Open-Air Exhibit: “We consider youth as a national resource & treasure that we must take care of and develop.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Day #5, 17-Dec-2008, Jericho

Visual Potpourri from Jericho visit on 17-Dec-2008

Jericho: Shadi, IT Director @ YMCA Vocational Center

Banner designed/printed by Graphics Department at YMCA Jerico

YMCA Vocational Training Center (VTC)
Poster designed/printed by Graphics Design Department

Entrance sign at: "Al Baiara" (The Ranch)

George (left) and Michele (right) discussing by the waterfalls and children's pool at "Al Baiara" (The Ranch)

Jericho IT leaders (left) in conversation with Michele (right)

Day #4, 16-Dec-2008, Ramallah

The 9:30-10:00 start time, found Michele and I in conversation in the Lobby of the Hotel waiting for my ride to show up. The culture is definitely "Mediterranean" influenced :) -- but more conversation is good as it provides an excellent learning opportunity. And besides, I do not have anything else scheduled to do; this is why I'm here: to learn.

Hytham arrived. (I had met him on my brief visit back in 2004; he was the President of the Birzeit University Alumni. And I had momentarily forgotten how well-connected this guy is. For my friends in Houston, you'll understand if I compare Hytham to Art.)

Hytham had just returned from an International, 10-day humantarian conference for youth. He took 5 young leaders from Palestine. The conference was in Beirut, Lebanon. They were joined by other young leaders from: Lebanon, Finland, and Greece. (Yes, Greece. This was exactly during the riots in Greece!) So we spent the time from Jerusalem to Ramallah getting caught up on each other's activities, and soon enough we arrived at the Extension Services Unit offices in Ramallah.

There in the offices, I was first introduced to Sammir. He proceeded to tell me of his work which is with the "Micro-Finance" (for which they had just been awarded a special, top-level award by Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Very powerful programs! He also then showed me 2 summary Case Studies: 1) describing a family in Gaza: husband, wife, and 9 children.

The man had contracted Polio as a child, limiting the use of his legs. They were living in a small, run-down 2-bedroom apartment. He and his family were identified as "below poverty" and qualified for candidates of one of Sammir's micro-finance programs. He receives training, opens his own Grocery Store, gets a larger home for him and his family and is deeply indebted and thankful for the work of Sammir and the Micro-Finance program and training from the YMCA.

I then spent a few minutes with 2 young men (who by the way do not have the necessary paperwork to meet with me in Jerusalem -- although Jerusalem is only 20 miles away) who are in charge of the Information Technology operations for the YMCA of Jerusalem. Both recent University graduates: one with a degree in MIS and the other in Software Development. They share with me how little anyone else in the YMCA understands anything about IT and/or Software, etc. I share with them how common this is -- not just here in Palestine but, in fact, all over the world. This meeting was short, and it will be continued with another, longer, dedicated meeting to better understand their potential to help their organization.

Quickly, then off to the Ramallah YMCA -- a palatial footprint of a brand new building, sitting atop the lone hill at the bottom a volcano-like crater in the middle of Ramallah. Looking up, the City of Ramallah is visible, lining nearly a 360-degree view, as one scans the top of rim of this crater. Likewise, the people of Ramallah, can all see the YMCA; it's the only structure in that entire area. The first building. As such, all the basic city services needed to be extended to that area for the YMCA -- water, sewage, electricity, roads, etc. As a result, now, the surrounding land values have increase anywhere from 5x to 10x's in value. (i.e. from $25,000 for a plot of land to over $250,000!)

The building is about 85% completed, construction-wise. There is external landscaping yet to be started as well as the building of the primary access road to the YMCA. That road has been the main reason for a 3+ year delay in opening the facility. However, just as I arrived 4 days ago, funds of over $800,000 had been secured by the City, specifically for the purpose of completing construction of the road--hopefully in 3-4 months' time.

Here are a few pictures inside and on the roof of the facility. (By the way, now people in the city have expressed an interest in adding Bowling Lanes to the facility. Oh great! No problem. You'll see huge square stump/pillars on the rooftop; the architect designed those as support structures to additional floors to add whenever the need arose. Well the need has already surfaced, and the facility hasn't even opened yet!)

1/2 size Olympic Pool

Large conference/multi-purpose room

roof top view - stump/pillars

Hytham standing between the low-depth view (not seen at the left) and the 1/2 size Olympic pool in the background

Day #4: 16-Dec-2008

Planning on visiting Ramallah site today. Yesterday spent afternoon, about 4 hours, discussing membership record-keeping (excel spreadsheet; 1 line per member only about 15 columns of info). Have about 1,000 (Active & Inactive) members in that spreadsheet. Fundraising/donors all tracked by hand and anonymously -- which is VERY important in this culture. Deciding not to touch automating philanthropy at this point. Instead explore integrating Membership and Program participants tracking via a simple stand-alone system (or perhaps a simple jump-start on-line system -- depending on how reliable telecommunication connections to the internet are). Considering reaching out to 2 known & trusted providers, albeit stateside. Most of today's findings will depend on the real/perceived extremely HIGHER volumes of members and program participants that have been alluded to regarding the pending, soon-to-be-opened Ramallah location.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Eve Celebration: Just outside Bethlehem

Shepherds' Nights Festival

Very much looking forward to this event. Apparently the Mayor of Bethlehem joins with the YMCA of Beit Sahour in reading from the Bible about the birth of Christ. The Shepherd's field land has been a part of the YMCA property for decades.

Check out this ad/picture that I clipped from a local English publication: "This week in Palestine" (and the text from within the picture describing the event)
5:50am (GMT+2) been up for an hour.Planning day. Not able to be as interactive w/ social media as I'd like, because very socially engaged :)
Lunch w/Friends: Falafels. Genuine. Delicious. Cheap. Did I mention delicious? :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

YMCA Receives "Economics Creativity Award"!

Cairo, Egypt
The Jerusalem YMCA, on 16-Nov-2008, in Cairo Egypt was awarded the prestigious "Economics Creativity Award" from the Arab Thought Foundation. This is a first for any YMCA!


Day #3, 15-Dec-2008

The call to prayer from a nearby minaret ushers in a new day. Feeling somewhat caught up on sleep; althought I felt like that for about 5 hours yesterday, then crashed. ;) We'll see. Lots to do. Plans to work. Meeting with General Secretary and his key staff today to go over various ideas. I believe their web site will emerge as a major topic of discussion. Rightly so. It's definitely Web 1.0 brochure-ware, static, out-of-date and does not serve a rat's chance of helping them market all the wonderful work they have done and are continuing to do.
5:41am local time. The 1st Adhan rings out from the minaret welcoming the morning. Amazingly, now the birds are also awake & singing. True.
3 Simple Photos of my room:

Day#2 - Lunch: Roasted Lamb kabob, naan bread, Onion Soup, fruit dessert, Lemonade and coffee. Delicious. First full regular meal following late morning/early afternoon jet-lag induced nap. Following lunch asked hotel reception where I could get a 3-prong grounded plug. Basically went down Nablus road to the wall of the Old City, then turned left. Kept walking about 2-3 blocks with the open market place in full bloom. Vendors of everything shouting over each other to get their wares noticed -- actually at times it seemed they were shouting in unison a kind of "communal chat". I just kept on track, knew where I was going and what I needed. Nothing of the "tourist" wandering around -- especially since I was on my own. Just blended in. Quest achieved, I simply reversed the process and ended back at: Jerusalem Legacy Hotel. Working on posting 2-3 snapshots of my completely renovated accommodations. Very contemporary indeed.

28 Days in Israel & the Middle East (GMT+2)

Volunteering for USAid funded NGO. Social work, living and working with all people throughout the region. Goal: make a difference in people's everyday lives.

Stay tuned here for additional updates. Don't know how much or how little telecomm access to the Internet I'll have during the engagement.

1st Full day in Jerusalem. Last night, complete tour of the newly renovated Jerusalem YMCA. An amazing difference between now and the last time I was here in 2004! Completely renovated areas. Much left to do, but night and day difference! The new General Secretary Andre' has indeed moved mountains!

Today following a little needed rainfall, there is a crispness/freshness in the air around Jerusalem. Sorted out English vmail prompts (changed from Hebrew); confimed working local phone number. Access to friends' Cellcom numbers as well.

Slept for equivalent of 2 nights' sleep. Hopefully now fully jet-lag free. (Yeah, right.)

Quest for the day: a grounded 3-prong electrical adapter.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tel Aviv bound! Hope my flight isn't delayed by 13 hours like @jeffpulver 's was :( I bought Seth Godin's "Tribes" to read, but not 13hrs ;)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"What a difference Brilliant Design makes!" Tom Peters, Re-imagine! [eg. iPhone vs. iPhone wannabees; Blackberry vs. BB clones, etc.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 - Just in time SIM!

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Advantage comes not from the spectacular, or the technical, but from a persistent seeking of the...edge."Tom Peters,Re-imagine![sharp edge]

Friday, December 5, 2008

3 microprojectors - Wow! That's small! -
"Today's triumph (or setback) is just one step in a long journey." Tom Peters, Re-imagine! [Don't give up - either way.]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Small Task = B-I-G Opportunity. Don't e-v-e-r accept "small" as a "given". Tom Peters, Re-imagine! [I've seen this so many times.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Grow via quality services and customers, not via growth for growth's sake." Tom Peters, Re-imagine! [Quality is Job #1 - to steal a phrase]