Seraj Library Project is thrilled to share our latest developments in this newsletter.
Update on one of our flagship projects - The Storytelling Center in Kufor Aqab
Did you know Seraj has two active boards - one in the United States & one in Palestine? Meet two Seraj Library Project board members & what inspires their work with Seraj.
Update from Palestine: The Storytelling Center
After months of construction, we have been given the keys!
Seraj's newest library will include a first of its kind Storytelling Center.
Greetings from a chilly Palestine!We experienced a bit of excitement last week when a very thin layer of snow blanketed much of Ramallah, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Many people sought to “brave” the storm by staying together with extended families, huddled around small gas heaters on which chestnuts were roasted and water boiled for sage tea. As always, family stories are remembered and retold. Stories from snowstorms of the past, when kids didn’t have to worry about losing electricity to charge their phones or attend their Zoom classes. Stories from a time that is remembered as a simpler one.
We talk a lot about the importance of storytelling at Seraj. In fact, all of our work and activities are born out of stories… rediscovering the lost ones and preserving both the significant and seemingly insignificant ones, then bringing them to life through the interpretation of various kinds of artists, so the stories come alive again, in our communities. Stories tell us where we’ve come from and can guide us where we are going. They should tell the truth about our past so that we can begin to heal as we face the future. They connect us to those who have come before, those around us, and those yet to come.
This is why we continue to be excited about Seraj’s Storytelling Center, the first of its kind in Palestine. Some of you may have seen the photos we posted on social media… as you know, we worked with the municipality of Kufor Aqab and Riwaq Center for Architectural Preservation to renovate two 150 year old houses in the village of Kufor Aqab. Riwaq completed the renovation beautifully and gave the keys to Seraj, so that we can begin the work of furnishing and stocking the insides. These two homes will house a library, a café/study center, a small office for Seraj, and most notably, our new Storytelling Center. The space is charming and inspiring, well-lit and full of delightful little nooks and crannies. Each stone seems to hold untold stories of the generations that have come before. We envision the Seraj library and storytelling center to be a place to gather, dream and inspire. A spark of light and hope in the middle of settlements, checkpoints and overcrowded and underfunded schools and apartment buildings.
We have begun developing a curriculum to train people in the collection, preservation and telling of stories. We are working with like-minded organizations to share expertise and resources. The work on the library and storytelling center was slow this past year due to Covid, but we are now back on track to open this summer. We can only hope that the spread of Covid will be significantly slowed or stopped by then so that we can launch our activities by the start of the 2021 school year.
As always, none of this is possible without the support of all of our friends in the US. Your commitment to establishing libraries in Palestine, your belief that Palestinians deserve the right to live with dignity, and your generosity to communities living across the globe is both astounding and humbling. We continue to be thankful for each of you and look forward to sharing our updates on our progress.
Laurie Salameh, Co-Founder & Director Seraj Palestine
Seraj Palestine Board Member, Dima Bseiso
Tell us a little bit about yourself… where did you grow up? Where is your family from? Did you like to read? Did you have any experience with libraries? What is your earliest memory of reading?
I was born and raised in Ramallah, Palestine. I studied in the Rosary Sisters school in Jerusalem and finished my degree in Psychology from Birzeit University. I grew up in a home with a big library. Both of my parents were readers. I have fond memories of sitting by the fire in the evenings, sipping sage tea, listening to my father discuss the books he was reading. I remember many nights when my older sister would read aloud “One Thousand and One Nights” (also known as “Arabian Nights”) before we fell asleep. People always gave me books as gifts, which I absolutely adored (and still do!).
How did you get involved with Seraj?
I met Laurie through my work, and after exchanging many books and discussing them together, we became close friends. I always loved how passionate Estephan and Laurie were about Seraj, and how they invested so much time and effort to develop libraries in rural villages and refugee camps. I was thrilled to be asked to join the board and spread joy to so many girls and boys through the library experience we all love.
What do you like about Seraj and what we are doing?
What I really like about Seraj is that we are reaching remote villages and communities and introducing the world of storytelling through libraries. We are also creating an atmosphere where books are always present and giving hope to young people that they can make a change and improve their lives through books and reading. Seraj works as close partners with the local community and we understand the importance of being real and authentic to make lasting change.
What are your hopes for Seraj in the future?
At Seraj, we understand that the job of education is not limited to schools, because real education is done by encouraging children to become inquirers (as is their nature) and by seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge. We want to raise a generation of leaders who believe they can make change. This is what Seraj is doing now, my hope is that we can expand and empower more young people across Palestine.
What are your hopes for Palestine and for your kids?
My daily hope is that as parents and teachers, we can lead by example and reading becomes part of the lives of all our children. The time has come for us to give our children the skills for learning how to learn and how to search for information. We need to let go of the dependency upon authority figures to force learning that we are teaching our children in Palestinian schools. I hope that teachers will evolve from this into facilitators for knowledge.
Seraj US Board Member, Galen Burghardt
How did you get involved with Seraj?
Birch and I were drawn into the work of Seraj by Cotton Fite several years ago when he organized a class at St Luke’s Episcopal in Evanston on the history of Palestine and the emergence of Israel. Cotton also introduced us to Estephan Salameh (it was only later that we met Laurie), and we found ourselves delighted by the work they were doing. We later had a chance to travel to Israel and the West Bank with Pauline Coffman and Paul Parker, who were (and still are) members of the Seraj board here in the U.S. and who managed an absolutely magical tour that lit fires in our hearts that still burn.
Tell us about your Board involvement.
Cotton then recruited me to join the board. I think he really wanted Birch, but she was fully engaged in other work, so that left me. I can report that the experience has been a delight.
To be sure, our main job here is to raise money so that Seraj in Palestine can create children’s libraries. But the task has been a joyful one largely because the work Seraj is doing in Palestine is so delightful and because the people who have been drawn to the cause are so much fun to be around.
What do you like about Seraj?
Others have said this much better, but for me, my love of Seraj stems from the idea that one can never go wrong helping a child. It’s something that we can do without angering anyone, and the gift in return is the chance to meet the people in these communities and make new friends.
This newsletter was crafted by the Communications Committee.
Amelia Miller, Chair
Let us know your questions or concerns, or how we can help you.