Village Mayor & Estephan Salameh consult on the new developing library space at Tubas.
In early December, John Cassel, Seraj Board co-chair and treasurer, and Tana Durnbaugh, Seraj supporter from Chicago, spent two days with Laurie & Estephan Salameh visiting our two new libraries. Here is John’s report:
Tana and I had the privilege of spending two days visiting our two newest libraries. Both are just on the cusp of opening, and the visits revealed key features of the way Seraj builds partnerships with community groups.
Our two new libraries had not yet opened and the visits were far different from my earlier visits to libraries in full swing. All our libraries are the fruit of partnerships that are relatively long in the making. Essentially, after a relationship is formed and vetted on both sides, a joint effort comes together to establish the new library. Often the relationship is serendipitous. Village folk have heard about a library and seek out Estephan or Laurie, or perhaps Seraj learns of a promising location.
Our eight existing libraries have a variety of types of partners - women’s & youth groups, refugee camps, churches. See the list here.See a map of all 10 here.
Abu Falah, a long-standing village of about 5,000, around 18 miles North East of Jerusalem. Together with Taybeh and Al Mizra’a Al Sharqiyeh, Abu Falah is now part of a three-libraries cluster north east of Ramallah.
Tubas, a recently growing municipality of about 25,000, around 60 miles North East of Jerusalem.
The mayor of each community is playing a key role in the development of the library, and both are enthused about the benefits that will accrue to the community.
In Seraj’s design, the community is responsible for the site (Seraj has no buildings of its own, the partner always provides the space). Once a suitable space is found, Seraj does provide funds to transform the space into an inviting, bright, and safe environment. As is often the case, and in both of the current instances, the chosen site dramatically transforms an underutilized eyesore into something truly dramatic.
Likewise, the community partner commits people to operate and maintain the library and its programs. Our scholarship program sweetens the pot for college-age volunteers, but there are many volunteers in addition to these scholarship students. Because Tubas has the enthusiastic support of a large municipality, a paid “librarian” is envisioned.
Laurie and Estephan work with the community in the design and transformation of the space. Layout is envisioned, colors chosen, wall and window decorations chosen. As a result of the occupation, much of Palestinian life can be dark and tedious, so there is great value in our libraries being a bright and hospitable alternative. Local carpenters are engaged to build bookshelves to fit the spaces. As much money as possible stays in the community.
Laurie and Estephan have become quite skilled in crafting quality library spaces. The Abu Falah library will use a well situated wall for a projector screen. Tubas will have a pull-down screen in the smaller children’s room. Carpet and bean bags allow multiple configurations for work and play.
Wall decorations at Tubas. The partner group at Abu Falah.
After all is set, the last step is the delivery of books, computers and equipment. This was the stage of Tubas and Abu Falah at the time of our visit. Both libraries will host a “grand opening” in January 2019 to engage all the local partners and neighboring libraries.
Of course, the actual physical library and its books are just the necessary infrastructure. The real life of the library is its multiple programs for children and community. Fidaá Ataya serves as our part-time Program Coordinator. She accompanied us on our visit in Abu Falah and is eager to begin work, helping the local volunteers to develop programs to meet the needs of their local community.
Most importantly, Seraj is in for the long haul. We do not establish a library and leave, rather we continue to work with the community to assure the library meets the goals and needs of the community.
Tana Durnbaugh, not new to the West Bank, but a first-time visitor with Seraj:
"Upon entering the new library spaces, my own memories of a county book mobile and the excitement of access to books immediately returned. Books opened worlds unknown for this isolated country girl, and changed a life. These new libraries will open worlds for the children of Palestine. Libraries democratize ideas and free minds."
Tana & Estephan in the Tubas Mayor's office
We are soliciting your help:
Invite Seraj to make a presentation
to your group!
Seraj Library Project has a great story to tell, and we are eager to share.
Who? We are glad to tailor a presentation to your group. Some suggested groups:
Church, mosque and synagog groups: Adult and youth education, mission committees, women’s & men’s groups, worship focus, study groups.
Personal connections: Gather a group in you home, gather around a Palestinian meal, rent your community room or assembly hall.
What? Some suggested topics:
Seraj beginnings and founders, both Palestine and U.S.
Seraj partnerships with communities, volunteers, teachers, community leaders.
Libraries as community centers and agents of change.
Life under Occupation.
The Palestinian Storytelling Center - hopes and plans.
Preserving Palestinian Culture and Identity.
How you can visit Palestine and see the libraries first-hand.
If you can accommodate a Power Point presentation, we can share pictures and commentary.
Presenters? We have a number of people, Board members and others, who are able to share from Seraj’s history and their own personal experience in Palestine. Our lead presenter: Elisabeth Trost
Elisabeth Trost, the newest member of the Seraj Board, has recently returned from spending two years in Palestine, working as the academic coordinator of a school in Nablus. While she was there she was able to visit several of the Seraj Libraries and attend several Seraj events. If you would like to invite her, she would be happy to come speak with your group about her experiences living in the West Bank and share more about the Seraj Library Project.
Let's talk. Contact us via our website. Or, call/write Galen Burghardt, Seraj Development Chair, to discuss your needs and how we might best respond. firstname.lastname@example.org or (224) 420-6373. Thanks for your interest and support.
Let us know your questions or concerns, or how we can help you. Contact Us.