Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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