Tag Archives: UNRWA-USA

Turn ‘Black Friday’ into Golden Generosity

“Black Friday” represents good shopping deals to some, and the cash register ringing for retailers when their bottom line goes from red to black, but for me it’s become a day symbolizing what’s rotten about the USA and I can’t pretend to hide my scorn.

Few realize the origin of “Black Friday” —

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The modern version spells bad news for the climate, the economy and the human spirit. But rather than itemize the doom and gloom of crass consumerism and why it’s so bad for our souls and the planet, I’m sharing some tips for alternative “shopping” if people have greenbacks in their wallets. Avoid your credit cards. If you don’t have the cash in hand, you shouldn’t be caught up in holiday shopping of any kind. Sit down, stretch your imagination and make your gifts.

Two years ago, I blogged about gift ideas from my perch in Cairo, see here.

Idea #1 – Remember the refugees.

More than 20 million refugees have fled their homes. Most are living in dire circumstances today, caught between violence, disease, lack of security and respect, and an uncertain future. Treat yourself and family to Ai WeiWei’s documentary ‘Human Flow’ perhaps playing at a theatre near you.  The filmmaker suggests some actions we can take, check it here.  (My sister has been making microloans with Kiva for years. I’m going to follow her example.)

A store is opening in London, the first of its kind, where shoppers can stop by and purchase gifts for refugees. The retail space has been donated by a real estate investment trust. The organization, Help Refugees, will get the gifts into the hands of refugees and an online store is planned soon. If you’re not in London, you can donate here.

Friends in Washington, DC can purchase a Palestinian falafel sandwich for $3 and a portion of each dollar will be sent to help feed refugees worldwide. Check it out here.

Give a gift to a Palestine refugee through UNRWA-USA, the agency that’s been working closely with refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Check out the button on the top right corner here.

If you have the time, flexibility and desire to help refugees directly, there are many opportunities. I recommend Advocates Abroad currently operating in Greece.

Idea #2 – Double the impact.

Good journalism requires eyeballs and subscribers. Give holiday subscriptions to family and friends. You’ll be supporting the journalism you appreciate and sending a subtle message to the gift recipients where their attention should be focused.  Of course, a digital subscription is preferable.

My favorite recommendations include:

Yes! Magazine — “YES! Magazine reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions.”

The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor are my two picks for keeping informed on international and local news.

Idea #3 – The children in your life.

This might be the toughest part of holiday giving, at least for me. I remember my own childhood and unwrapping tons of gifts Santa had spread under the tree. I want children today to feel the same anticipation and excitement.

Olive harvest and children

Children in Gaza – 2013

Children everywhere need security, love, education, a planet that can sustain them, and adults who respect their needs today and in the future. If the TV commercials would only drum that message into consumers’ heads rather than the latest iPhone 10 and electronic gadgets.

Books are a good gift for any age, and if you can find them at your local independent bookstore, that’s even better.

P for Palestine

P is for Palestine – A Palestine Alphabet Book sold out within days of its launch in November 2017 but you can preorder your copy of the second edition for delivery in Spring 2018 here.

Other titles to consider:

White and Black – Political Cartoons from Palestine by Mohammad Sabaaneh (2017) for teens and adults.

The Last Earth – A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud (2017) has not been released yet but can be pre-ordered here.

The Anteater and the Jaguar by Rayek R. Rizek (2017) is another book I’m ordering. It’s available on Amazon.

In addition to books, give your time to the children in your life. Itemize your talents (cooking, drawing, story-telling, sewing, knitting, hiking, writing, photography, fishing, etc.) and prepare a home-made gift certificate with a promise to share your talent with your child in a real and meaningful way.

Family photo album with names, dates and stories about family members is a gift I wish I’d received as a child, and I wish I’d given to my own. My family photos are scattered in boxes in storage now.

Time with the children is the best gift any parent can give any child of any age. Their time is priceless because many parents are working two jobs just to put food on the table. Carving out a day, a weekend, or an hour every evening just for your child may be challenging, but the effort will reap rewards for everyone. (This goes for Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and everyone else.)

hiking

Photo Credit: Michelle Lake 

Idea #4 – Put your money where your heart is.

I don’t believe our hearts reside in Wal Mart #1 retailer, Costco #2 retailer, or Kroger #3 retailer in the U.S.  Shop with thoughtful intention during this holiday season and every day.

Chain store proliferation has weakened local economies, eroded community character, and impoverished civic and cultural life. Moreover, consolidation has reduced competition and may harm consumers over the long-term. See here and here.

Remember, you’re the role model for your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

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#Gaza5K — a Success!

running 1

I didn’t have any doubts that I would finish the #Gaza5K in DC this morning, but I had expectations I didn’t know for sure that I could fulfill.

#1 — Could I meet my fundraising goal of $1,000?

#2 — Could I get to the park in DC by 7 AM?

#3 — Could I cross the finish line without any aches and pains?

This was my third year participating in UNRWA-USA’s #Gaza5K.  These races are scheduled in several cities around the USA to raise funds to provide mental health services for the refugees in Gaza.  The next #Gaza5K is in San Francisco on October 14.

Tshirts

Picking up our t-shirts prior to the race

Thanks to my friends in Albuquerque, Seattle, Chicago and elsewhere, I met my fundraising goal just a day before the race. I carried the names of each of my 16 contributors on a 3×5 card with me during the race to honor their generosity in fulfilling expectation #1.

Morning snacks

Nourishment before the race

Since I don’t drive and I’m about 40 miles from DC, I wasn’t sure how I could make it to the race by the 7 AM check-in time. Good friends had my back. One offered me a place to sleep in DC if I wanted to travel the night before the race; and another offered to pick me up at my doorstep in Baltimore at 6 AM so we could drive together. Alhamdulillah! Expectation #2 was met.

 

 

When the crowd lined up — I’m guessing 125-150 people — we learned that we had collectively raised over $115,000 and everyone cheered.

Whether we ran or walked or strolled along this #Gaza5K course, we were all there for the same purpose — to support the Palestinian refugees in Gaza who are trapped inside Israel’s suffocating blockade and military bombardments.

The unemployment rate is over 40%; the restriction on travel has created the largest open air prison in the world; suicide rates are increasing; and in 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 (now the UN says Gaza is de-developing faster than it earlier predicted).

start race

Off we go …. at 8 AM

I had no intention of running this 5K and, fortunately, many others didn’t either. I felt quite at ease walking along, first at a good clip, but then slower and slower as we ticked off the kilometers.

 

The runners seemed to be having a good time. It was the perfect weather, and the perfect course (FLAT) for this #Gaza5K.

Jeff and Sammy

Jeff and Sammy from Baltimore

I’m pleased to report that my final expectation, making it across the finish line without any aches or pains, was fulfilled, and my friend Jeff won a medal for the fastest runner in his age bracket!  Alhamdulillah!

 

“Thank you” to each of my friends who contributed to this campaign. Together we made a world of difference in the lives of many Palestinian refugees who will benefit from UNRWA’s mental health services.

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay area, consider signing up and joining the fun on October 14 at Lake Merced Park.  If you can’t join, but want to contribute, check this link here. Shukran!

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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Senators should not build unity on the backs of Palestinians

When do U.S. Senators stand lockstep together?

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convinces them that the United Nations is biased against the State of Israel.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

It’s rare, especially these days, for all 100 U.S. Senators—from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz, from Elizabeth Warren to Mitch McConnell—to agree on something. But the scourge of anti-Israel bias at the United Nations is such an issue.

So all of them, including Senators Warren, Sanders, and my two Senators from New Mexico signed on to the letter undoubtedly written by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobbying operation ensconced in Washington DC.

The letter is a warning note to Secretary-General Guterres – “reform your agencies from within or pay the consequences.”

Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel and to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms.

My response sent to my two U.S. Senators follows.  I hope they hear from many other constituents.

May 10, 2017

RE:   April 27 letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – Israel & Palestine

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

I’m very disappointed with your signatures on the letter (likely drafted by AIPAC) to the United Nations regarding Israel.

Senator Martin Heinrich

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

You, along with your colleagues in the Senate, have adopted Israel’s strategy of deflecting legitimate and worldwide criticism of Israel’s brutal 50-year occupation by focusing criticism on the messenger, the United Nations. We’ve all seen this same “strategy of deflection” coming from the White House in the form of childish Tweets. Your letter is just as childish.

Threatening the United Nations and demanding internal “reforms,” based on false assertions that the U.N. is unfairly targeting Israel, belies the fact that the community of nations stand together in their condemnation of Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine.

A quick online review of recent actions in the United Nations reveals that the U.S. stands alone with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau (and sometimes Canada) in supporting Israel in the U.N. General Assembly. Every other nation is united in speaking the truth about Israel’s continuing violations of international humanitarian law and the law of occupation. Your letter’s bullying demands to the Secretary-General reflect poorly on the United States, but it’s certainly a testament to AIPAC’s power over the U.S. Senate.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the letter’s outrageous claim about “UNRWA’s troubling anti-Israel bias and activities.” You write that “UNRWA must pursue reforms or risk significant consequences.” I’m personally familiar with UNRWA’s solid work in the Gaza Strip and I find this characterization and threat totally unacceptable. The Senate’s blind loyalty to Israel’s hasbara must end.

Udall

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

I’m also astonished that you oppose the international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as stated in the letter to the U.N.  Peaceful, nonviolent methods to end Israel’s occupation deserve your strong support, not condemnation.

Please learn the facts about the occupation, beginning with the fact that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020.

Israel’s leaders have proven over many decades that they are incapable or unwilling to end the occupation. If the United States cannot play a constructive role, then please support the United Nations and its constituent agencies in the work they are doing in the Middle East.

Finally, I invite you and your staff to join me in UNRWA-USA’s 5K run in Washington, DC in September.  Your support for this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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#Gaza5K rain or shine in DC

IMG_4417Saturday, May 21, proved to be a real soaker and not the best conditions at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC for a 5K.  That didn’t stop hundreds from showing up bright and early (7 AM) to run or walk in solidarity with the children in Gaza.

IMG_4411The successful fundraiser supports UNRWA’s psycho-social programs for children suffering from PTSD. Tragically, more than 50% of the children in Gaza suffer from PTSD.

IMG_4423This was my second #Gaza5K. Thanks to generous donors, I exceeded my $2,000 goal. I’m waiting to hear the final stats from UNRWA-USA but I heard they exceeded their goal too. Yeah!

Honestly, I thought about not rolling out of bed at 5 AM to drive to DC to walk in the rain, but I’m glad I did it ….. for me, for the people who donated to my campaign, and for the children in Gaza.

I met some really cool new friends, and received some great advice about my personal journey to return to Gaza.  I’m contacting the National Lawyers Guild this week.

Thank you to the UNRWA-USA staff who inspired all of us to do our best for the children in Gaza.  You are truly making a difference!

IMG_4443

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

 

 

 

 

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Gift-giving this holiday season

Palestininan rug

Native Naseej

Spoiler alert!   My adult children and family members should not read this blog post.

A Syrian Freedom Fighter window-shopping in Cairo

A Syrian Freedom Fighter window-shopping in Cairo

Hanukkah begins Sunday, December 6 and Christmas is right around the corner. We know that our purchasing power can have a tremendous impact (good and bad) and so I offer some ideas for gift-giving this holiday — especially for Americans.

#1  – Avoid the shopping malls

#2 – Avoid driving and idling in traffic, take public transportation

#3 – Avoid the stress of finding the “perfect” gift.

#4 – Avoid impulsive gift-giving. Sit down and make a list.

#5 – If low on funds but rich on time, make cards with tasks you promise to do for the recipient.  (Be creative!)

Handmade gifts are amazing because they represent your time and spirit. There are many ideas online, but check this website first. Don’t forget handmade cards too.

Donations made in the name of your gift recipient might work for some of your family and friends who share your same interests. Be sure to explain why you made the donation in their name. Here are some of my interests.

UNRWA — Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian EconomyRachel Corrie Foundation — Middle East Children’s AlliancePalestine Children’s Relief FundThe Palestine Chronicle — YES! MagazineTikkun — 350.org — Idle No More — Union of Conerned ScientistsVeterans for PeaceWorld Beyond War — and my favorite candidate this year is Bernie Sanders who is building a campaign with grassroots contributions.

Books make great gifts but stay away from Amazon.com if you can.  Check out Just World Books or any of your local independent bookstores.   I’m bringing a suitcase-full of books to Gaza. Many of the titles are included here.

Gifts from Palestine – are extra special.  I encourage you to check out Al’ard Products —  Canaan Fair Trade — Sunbula  — Sindyanna of Galilee — Native Naseej and Nehaya Accessories.

Happy Holidays everyone!

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Nehaya Accessories

 

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شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends

I’m spending Thanksgiving in Cairo this year, waiting for permission to enter Gaza through the Rafah border. It’s been a very long wait with no end in sight. I actively started my preparations for returning to Gaza 450 days ago.

The Egyptian government tells me “لا  لا” and the U.S. Embassy tells me “no no”. The Israelis are telling my friends who are trying to enter Gaza from the north through the Erez crossing “לא לא”. Why am I still trying?  Some tell me I should have given up a long time ago.

Along this journey to Gaza I’ve met many people and learned many things. One Egyptian friend gave me reading material about Islam, which I’ve been slowly making my way through. One thing I’ve learned, but not sure I really understand, is that Muslims have a belief in destiny — each person’s destiny is written by Allah — and this belief in their destiny (good and bad) helps them persevere through difficult times and crises. “Whatever will be, will be.”

I have to have faith that my return to Gaza is in Allah’s hands, even though the governments of Egypt, Israel and the U.S. might think they control my journey.  And I don’t control it either.

(OK, I just wrote that but I’m not sure what it means.)

Many friends around the world (America, Canada, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Egypt) have helped me on this journey.  A big “thank you” to each of you!

As the Christmas – Hanukkah holidays approach, many will be thinking about how to help others in need. Our common humanity has been sorely tested in 2015 and we want to reach out. I urge you to consider Palestinians in your gift-giving plans, and I’m sharing some suggestions and links to help.

#1 – Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah. This year he started Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy, [a 501(c)(3)].  Instead of focusing on political activism, Sam wants to branch out and engage in more economic activism, something that tends to get sidelined in the Palestine solidarity community. Sam frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com

#2 – We Are Not Numbers is the brainchild of an American writer and solidarity activist, Pam Bailey, to connect aspiring Palestinian writers with experienced writers and editors to mentor them on an individual basis. Read about the genesis of this new project here. In a very short time, WANN has connected many mentors and mentees, and the project is giving a voice to the voiceless.

#3 – UNRWA-USA [a 501(c)(3)] is the American arm of the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Needless to say, the challenges that UNRWA faces on the ground in Gaza are enormous, even more daunting following Israel’s 51-day assault in 2014. Each year, UNRWA-USA organizes #Gaza5K walk/runs in the US to raise $$. They also take donations year-round.

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Children are the primary beneficiaries of MECA’s work.

#4 – Middle East Children’s Alliance – has been doing good work on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for 25 years.  Read about some of their great projects here. MECA has a proven track record of success.  I saw some of their good work at the Afaq Jadeeda Association in the in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, in Gaza in 2012

#5 – Just World Books – Give yourself, family and friends a gift from Just World Books. The publisher, Helena Cobban, has released some important new titles about Palestine, and many are written by Palestinians.  On the top of my list is Gaza UnSilenced edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad.

Gaza Unsilenced

شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends!

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