Excerpts from Laurie & Estephan Salameh's Palestine update letter:
The Storytelling Center has found a home
We have exciting news to share with you - we found a location for our new Seraj Storytelling Center! All of us, in both the US and Palestine, have been dreaming of an actual, physical center for the storytelling center. During the past year we succeeded in meeting our goal of raising more than $100,000 for this dream project. We have been looking for a suitable space during the past year and decided on a pair of 150 year old houses in the village of Kufor Aqab, just minutes from Ramallah.
Through our partnership with RIWAQ, a center for architectural preservation in Palestine, and the village council of Kufor Aqab, we will renovate this beautiful building to create a magical space for performing, displaying, training and meeting. We will be a part of a new cultural hub in the “old city” of the village, with similar organizations devoted to community empowerment and cultural preservation. We plan to launch the center officially in the fall, so we are hard at work planning with the architects and engineers.
New Library #11
What is especially exciting about this project is that we will also establish our 11th library in the same location for this village! In preparing their plans for the cultural hub, the village council decided the first thing they wanted to bring to their community was a library.
Laurie Salameh, Seraj founder, signing the partnership agreement with Emad Awad, Mayor of Kufor Aqab.
This particular community faces different challenges than other communities in which we work due to their location, positioned between Ramallah and Jerusalem. The community population has exploded in the past 20 years due to their location near the Wall, from around 1,000 people to over 100,000. They are keen to develop safe, beautiful and inspirational spaces for the youth. We are thrilled about this partnership and will keep you updated as we progress this year.
New Library #12
In reviewing our strategy of partnership and support with our board during the past year, we decided that rather than focusing only on marginalized communities in Palestine as potential partners, we would support institutions that would be able to provide continuing and ongoing support to a library. It was with this in mind that we decided to establish a specialty library at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah. The ESNCM has branches in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Birzeit, Nablus, Hebron and Gaza and works in rural areas as well as refugee camps. This library would be the central library for all locations, housing both books and music and use of the library would be part of the curriculum for all students of the conservatory.
John Cassel, Seraj US Board Chair, visiting with George Ghattas, Academic Director, at the Conservatory in November 2019.
Seraj receives a generous gift.
Thanks to YOU, our community of supporters,
for sharing our story:
We are delighted to report that Seraj has received a gift of $100,000 from the estate of a man with a passion for books and for peace in the Holy Land. He had served in the British army in Korea where his commitment to peace was born. And he had studied broadly and traveled widely in the Holy Land where his love for Palestine took root. As fortune would have it, he had asked a woman with whom he had traveled and corresponded for years to find outlets for his estate that would further the cause of peace in Palestine. It was Seraj's good fortune that his friend encountered three friends of her own who, independently of one another, suggested that she take a serious look at The Seraj Library Project. She then took it upon herself to visit with Laurie and Estephan in Palestine and to learn first hand about the good work that Seraj has been doing. This gift, then, is the result of fortune, faithfulness, and friendships, and it is our great pleasure to have the chance to put it to good use in Palestine. We are making plans to use these funds in accord with the donor's wishes, in direct support of "peace in the Holy Land."
A Letter from Fida'a Ataya, Seraj's Master Storyteller
Fida'a was the featured speaker at our Benefit in October. The only staff Seraj employs (the rest are all volunteers), Fida'a is spending the year in a Masters Program at Plymouth State University, NH. We asked her to reflect on her year of study in the US:
Dear Seraj Friends,
I was so happy for the chance to be able to perform at the Seraj annual benefit in Chicago last October and to meet so many of you. It was wonderful to get to know so many people who are passionate about establishing libraries in Palestine!
I am currently living in New Hampshire where I am studying to earn an MA in Integrated Arts at Plymouth State University. This degree will allow me to incorporate arts into educational, cultural, human services and recreational settings.
I am keeping myself very busy here in New Hampshire! I am a part of a performance group called TIGER (Theater Integrating Guidance, Education and Responsibility) that performs for children across New England. During the last three months we performed 3 days a week for over 12,000 children! I am also performing in the musical "Annie" with ETC (Educational Theater Collaborative) and am earning A’s in all my classes. I have also been leading workshops in storytelling and have even held an art exhibit here in Plymouth. In addition, I am writing a book with my professor, Dr. Patricia Lindberg. It will be a guidebook for bringing Palestinian stories to life through the integration of the arts. It will be in both English and Arabic.
Living in New Hampshire has been an amazing experience as well, I love the stones and the extremes in nature between summer to fall to winter and all the trees and snow. People have been so kind, respectful and interested here. However, I very much miss the smell of the Earth in Palestine, as well as my mom and my whole family, Rozza (my dog), and the daily sounds of the mosque.
I’m so thankful for the many opportunities and all I am learning. This has been such a wonderful experience for me, and I think every day, how can I bring what I am learning back to Palestine with me and share with our communities there. I am looking forward to going home to Palestine to share my experiences through creating Magic Theater, a part of PACT (Palestinian American Children's Theater), bringing musical theater into Palestinian schools. I am also very excited to continue my storytelling work, particularly with Seraj and our new storytelling center. I have so many ideas and look forward to keeping in touch with all of you! Fida'a Ataya
Invite Seraj to make a presentation at your church, club, association...or, to a group of neighbors or friends in your home. We can talk about our libraries and programs, and share stories from the Occupation. We hope you will enjoy sharing our work with your friends.