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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

August Newsletter

Dear friends,

As the summer heat haze begins to dissipate in the Palestinian Territories and we start to look forward to the autumn planting and the winter rain, we at Bustan Qaraaqa would like to take a moment to fill you in on what we have been up to over the last few months and to let you know more about our plans for the future. We would also like to thank all of our many volunteers, guests, friends and supporters for your ongoing help with the project which has made it possible for us to achieve all that we have done.

The story so far:

Bustan Qaraaqa was founded in February 2008 by Steve, Tom, Alice and Nick, four young British environmentalists who came together with similar ideas about the need for a grassroots environmental movement in the Palestinian Territories. The aim of the project is to create a model permaculture farm with the aim of propagating a grassroots permaculture movement to help address the humanitarian and environmental problems facing the Palestinian people, and to create an international movement calling for environmental justice for Palestinians (learn more about the project).

The four were lucky to find an amazing site with a beautiful old farmhouse, outbuildings, caves and 12 dunums (4 acres) of land in a valley in the ancient town of Beit Sahour (Shepherds’ Fields), close to the city of Bethlehem. After lengthy negotiations with the owners of the site, a five year renewable lease was secured and the process of renovating the house could begin.

In the meantime, the group helped organize a series of environmental workshops with local youth focusing on the problem of waste management, in cooperation with Paidia International Development; and helped organize and attended a week long permaculture course at Marda Permaculture Farm in Salfit governorate (listen to radio broadcast about the course).

In April, work to make the house habitable began and in May, Alice, Nick and Tom were able to move onto the site. By June the guesthouse was open, and the first guests and volunteers began arriving. The first in a series of weekly volunteer events was held on June 15th, with a group coming together to help install a greywater system to filter and reuse water from the showers and sinks in the house for growing food. This event was well attended, and received coverage in the British broadsheet newspaper, the Guardian (read article).

Since June, the project has been going from strength to strength. The site now boasts a greywater recycling system, composting bays, a composting toilet, a series of swales across the valley floor and the beginnings of a huge cistern for rainwater harvesting. The guesthouse has hosted over 55 visitors from countries all over the world including Britain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Mauritius, Mexico, the USA, Canada, and New Zealand, as well as Palestine.

Bustan Qaraaqa staff have been active in the community as well, paying field visits to nearby communities, giving lectures and workshops on environmental themes at the nearby Alternative Information Centre (read about our latest workshop) and hosting groups for educational activities at Bustan Qaraaqa itself. The largest of these was a group of 50 young people from the Birzeit International Summer Work Camp, who spent 5 hours at Bustan Qaraaqa learning about permaculture and the Palestinian environment, and surveying and digging rainwater harvesting ditches.

The team also participated in organizing a fact-finding tour to the Negev desert in Israel which was attended by over 50 people from all over the world, aimed at better understanding the water situation in the Bedouin communities, in cooperation with our partner organizations, Bustan and LifeSource (read tour write-up).

Ongoing projects and future plans:

We are currently working on many levels and with many organizations to encourage grassroots environmental activism in the local area and to advocate for environmental justice for Palestinians.

Community Initiatives:

In cooperation with Beit Sahour municipality, we are attempting to organize a community composting scheme in two neighbourhoods in our immediate vicinity, raising awareness of the landfill problem and collecting a valuable organic resource for growing food.

In cooperation with the Phoenix Centre in Dheisha refugee camp, we are hoping to organize a series of workshops and community initiatives to address the most pressing problems currently facing refugees: water shortage, waste management and food security.

Environmental Education:

We will continue our participation in and support for the Paidia IMPACT program, an initiative to foster the desire and ability of young people to make positive contributions in their communities through nurturing principles of leadership, tolerance and environmental awareness.
We will also be holding a series of workshops with the AIC Womens’ Group, looking at household water conservation and pollution prevention.

We hope to attract more groups from every sector of society to attend workshops and training at Bustan Qaraaqa, and to these ends are working to build better networks with the local community.

In addition to these group events, we are hoping to attract a number of undergraduate and postgraduate students to Bustan Qaraaqa as the new academic year starts, offering our resources and expertise to support them in the execution of the research elements of their degrees.

Implementation of the permaculture model and ecosystem regeneration:

The design for the integrated guesthouse and farm along permaculture principles is gradually progressing towards completion and sustainability. The design components will continue to be built and implemented as we have the resources to do so, taking care never to miss the opportunity to use our experiences as educational workshops for interested neighbours and guests. In the coming months the water-harvesting earthworks will be extended across the whole site. The water catchment area of the house and yards will be constructed and cleaned. The winter water storage cisterns will be completed and sealed. A bathroom, laundry, propagation area and workshop will be built with water filtration and reuse and solar energy harvesting systems. A native tree nursery will be established to grow a diverse stock of species to reforest the site and supply land owners interested in replicating agroforestry techniques pioneered at Bustan Qaraaqa. To supply the nursery with wild native stock, seed and germplasm will be collected from the remaining wild trees of the Judean Hills and Jordan Valley. With the first of the winter rains the tree planting can begin coupled with sowing the winter crops and sheet mulching with cardboard and compost.

International Outreach:

Bustan Qaraaqa has attracted many visitors already and has a number of long-term volunteers signed up for the winter who are committed to working with us for several months. As we develop as a project, we will create detailed volunteer programs for Gap Year students and summer volunteers, although we will continue to accept volunteers on an ad hoc basis as well.

In addition, together with the Siraj Center and Bustan, we are developing a program of short (1 week to 10 days) environmental tours of the Palestinian Territories and Israel, aimed at educating international visitors about the environmental dimensions of the political struggles that are taking place in the region, and the work that is being done to counter environmental degradation, cultural erosion and socioeconomic decay.

Upcoming events:

Bustan Qaraaqa team member Alice will be visiting the UK this winter from November 6th until December 8th, and touring the country with a presentation about the environmental crisis in the Palestinian Territories and the politics of people and the environment. If you would like to invite Alice to speak to a group in your area please get in touch – be aware we will need some help with travel expenses!

Special thanks:

We would like to take this opportunity to give particular thanks to some people whose support has been crucial to the project, without whose help we would not be where we are now: Kristel Letschert, Ala Hilu, Jan Bang, Nadi Farraj, Adnan Atiyeh, Simone Awad, Murad Alkhuffash, George Rishmawi, Ricca Edmondson, Faith Rowold, Philip and Mary Gray, Susan Koppelman, Nachy Kanfer, Phil Behan, Nathan Dannison and Laura and Dennis Hampton.

Support Bustan Qaraaqa:

So far Bustan Qaraaqa has been sustained entirely by the dedication of its founders and volunteers, grassroots fundraising, revenue from the guesthouse and the generosity of a few individuals. We are working on securing more stable sources of funding, but until we do, we continue to depend on the support of our friends. If you would like to visit us here in Bethlehem, hold an event for us or donate to the project, please get in touch.

Our next news letter will be coming out in December – for updates on the project until then, please visit our blog: www.greenintifada.blogspot.com, or contact us at info@eag-palestine.org.

We wish you all the best from the Tortoise Garden and hope to see at least some of you in Bethlehem before too long,


Alice, Nick, Steve and Tom

The Bustan Qaraaqa team.

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