Empowering Palestinian Villages, One Library at a Time
November News — a lot, but worth it:
TWO Seraj Flagship Projects breaking ground
Seraj's two boards, Seraj Palestine & Seraj US, meet on Zoom
Watch the Benefit videos, again
Two Remarkable Opportunities Set Seraj’s Direction
Amelia Miller, Seraj US Board Communications Chair, had a recent opportunity to talk with Laurie and Estephan about Seraj’s exciting new flagship projects in Palestine. Here’s what they shared with us:
A: Let’s start with how Corona has impacted Seraj’s work.
L: So, you know Corona has slowed the whole world down. But, I have to say it gave us a chance to regroup here in Palestine. And, surprisingly we have some amazing opportunities that are coming to us because of this slow down.
Kufor Aqab, site of new Storytelling Center.
Birzeit, site for a new library and Cultural Center.
A: We’ve been talking about the Storytelling Center for over a year, let’s start there. Can you share with us how Kufor Aqab was chosen for the site and about the building process?
L: So, we met with Riwaq a few months ago. Riwaq is an amazing organization here, they are an architectural preservation organization. They take these old buildings, 100-200 years old, and renovate them. What they are doing now, is asking organizations like Seraj to come in & make the spaces active. In Kufor Aqab, they are creating a cultural hub, joining a few cultural organizations in this old village, giving each of us an old house, and asking us to bring the village to life following their renovation. Seraj will have 2 houses connected. One will be the children’s library with a café and the other will be a storytelling center.
In Kufor Aqab, they are creating a cultural hub, joining a few cultural organizations in this old village, giving each of us an old house, and asking us to bring the village to life following their renovation. Seraj will have 2 houses connected. One will be the children’s library with a café and the other will be a storytelling center.
E: These old buildings are really very rare. It is really very special to acquire access to one of these spaces. We have been given the opportunity to sign a contract for 15 years. So, we have secured this space for the next 15 years – it will be operated & run by Seraj.
A: Share with us the importance of a storytelling center.
L: As you know, we are a library organization. This is the foundation of all of our work. We establish libraries. And this is what we will do in Kufor Aqab. But as I said this is a foundation, and on top of this, we’re going to start the storytelling center. This is a way to preserve Palestinian culture, a way to collect stories, & ultimately to bring the stories to life.
The Palestine Board visits the Storytelling Center in Kufor Aqab.
E: Preserving the Palestinian identity and culture is something we feel is very much connected to the library concept. We are not only preserving the stories of our ancestors & preserving the Palestinian culture, but we are also using storytelling to educate people. This is the cultural way of spreading knowledge. We will also use interactive ways to share the stories, through music, art, theater, movies, books, etc.
A: This is really exciting. Can you share a time frame with us on the storytelling center opening?
L: We should be getting the fully renovated space from Riwaq at the end of winter or early spring, then we will do our work on the inside with the carpenter. We hope to be in the space by summer. This may be an optimistic timeline in the era of Corona, but we are hopeful. And I have to say here it really would be our dream for you to come and visit and participate in the grand opening. So let’s, please, stay in touch on that.
A: Wonderful. We’re also interested in hearing about the new opportunity in Birzeit.
L: Birzeit wants to revitalize the old city. The Old City of Birzeit is very old, with tiny alley-like streets. A hundred years ago it was the main part of the village, but of course the population has since spread. The municipality would like to activate their old city by bringing together cultural organizations, interesting small businesses and educational institutions to open there. By chance, it was renovated years ago by Riwaq, the organization currently working on the site in Kufor Aqab. They have a few organizations there now and it's starting to get more active. The municipality of Birzeit believes having a library and cultural center would really pull people in. So, recently, the municipality approached us about opening a library and cultural center. We couldn’t be more excited about this. It is a bit new, we are still in negotiations with them, but it looks like we will be able to get a hosh, which is a courtyard with 6 houses around it. And when I say a house, each is a bit more like a room. Each of these houses would be used as libraries, one for the Seraj office. The courtyard is large and beautiful. It’s an incredible space and would be an interactive cultural center.
A: Share with us your vision for libraries and creating a cultural center.
What we are talking about here is a cultural center. The anchor, of course, is the libraries. We will have enough space for a children’s library and a library for the college students. Right now there is no library in Birzeit & no place for the college students to go after the university closes at 4:30 pm. And after talking to many people, they believe what we have to offer is just what Birzeit is missing. In addition, we’d also like to open a music and arts library, where we would collect the repertoire of all the organizations here. Something Seraj has always done well over the past 15 years is partner with organizations and work cooperatively. We have it as our philosophy not to compete with the work of other organizations, but to work alongside, do something different.
E: So we have 2 big projects. I think they will keep us very busy, probably for the next 5 years until we get them all up and running. The storytelling center will be opening next year, Birzeit, maybe the year after. But, then we have a very big goal ahead of us, as they both become operational and our plans become realized.
I cannot emphasize this more, it really is a super dream come true for any organization here to have spaces like these. Historical spaces that have been renovated, then creating these places as social hubs of people coming in & out, music nights, cultural events, workshops, lectures, storytelling activities…and of course, the libraries as the anchor for all of this.
Thanks Amelia, Laurie & Estephan for this report. These 2 projects, incredible opportunities for Seraj, will both take years to complete. Seraj US will have the opportunity to provide much of the support. Our donors are invited to consider on-going, yearly gifts to undergird this great work - two remarkable flagship projects.
The two Seraj Boards meet via Zoom - Mai Khader Kakish, US Board
The long-awaited USA and Palestine Seraj Board meeting allowed us the opportunity to meet virtually over zoom. Our USA board members had just gotten out of bed and were enjoying a cup of coffee, while our Palestinian board members were wrapping up for the evening. The time difference was certainly interesting, but it was amazing and fulfilling to gather under one guiding vision.
Our board chair welcomed everyone and reiterating that Seraj is built on partnerships, with the biggest partnership being between Seraj USA and Seraj Palestine.
As members shared introductions, it was amazing to see how connected the US board is to Palestine and its people. Many of our stories and relationships are connected in some way, a lot through North Park University, where Laurie & Estephan studied.
The Palestinian Board praised the work of Seraj as a ray of hope and light in the communities where we operate. Seraj Libraries offer hope to Palestinian children for a better future.
Our zoom call allowed for connections that otherwise would have never been possible. We learned that the Palestinian board often meets at the Seraj office in Ramallah where Laurie and Estephan often bring the coffee and sweets.
When the USA board meets, we also share coffee and treats. It was heartwarming to learn these very human connections. We plan to stay connected to keep our coordination and focus. Laurie concluded by saying “Good ideas bring good people together, but good people also bring good ideas.”
Our Very Successful October Benefit-- 5 videos brought Seraj Palestine to all of us
We distributed 5 videos during our Week with Seraj-- have you seen them all? Use the links below:
Continuing thanks to all who contributed to our successful week!
From a long-time supporter: These videos made the Seraj Project and Palestinians really come alive for me. I loved hearing from the Palestinians themselves, getting to meet them and learning about their lives and concerns in their own language and voices.
The Benefit videos did such a good job of telling the Seraj story:
the ambitious new storytelling center beginning to take shape within a 100-year-old Palestinian home;
the eye-opening glimpse of Palestinian life in the Jordan Valley, currently under threat of annexation;
the vitality of lively children in Ramallah under Covid;
Laurie and Estephan Salameh speaking about Seraj and its mission;
Each video beautifully illustrates some facet of the Seraj Library Project and the people it serves. Collectively, they leave the viewer with a sense of the transformational possibilities that can be unleashed by access to a community library and the reasons to support Seraj in this work.
This newsletter crafted by the Communications Committee
Amelia Miller, Chair
Let us know your questions or concerns, or how we can help you.