Tag Archives: UNRWA-USA

Reasons to support UNRWA-USA

My family and friends know I’m soliciting donations for my #Gaza5K fundraising campaign to help UNRWA provide critical mental health services to the refugee children and their families in Gaza. This is my fourth year participating in the #Gaza5K and it’s never been this urgent.

Part of the urgency comes as a result of Trump’s decision to withhold the lion’s share of the U.S. annual contribution to UNRWA. His Administration thinks that will put pressure on the Palestinians to accept the “Deal of the Century”. It won’t. It will only add untold misery to the lives of refugees whose basic existence (especially in Gaza) has been called into question after eleven (11) years of the suffocating siege and blockade.

Another part of the urgency I’m feeling comes from friends and solidarity activists who understandably are trying to do the best they can given their shrinking pocketbooks and the myriad of competing organizations seeking their help.

We all need to work together to lift up and support all of these worthwhile organizations who are helping Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere. We all need to think creatively.

Here’s some information about UNRWA-USA which might be helpful in your deliberations about how to focus your fundraising efforts most effectively.

  • UNRWA USA is a 501(c)(3) registered with the IRS and your donations are tax-deductible.
  • 91% of all donations made through UNRWA USA directly support UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees.
  • UNRWA USA receives platinum, the highest rating for transparency, accountability, and administration from Guidestar. Of every dollar spent, 91 cents goes toward helping Palestine refugees. Just 6 cents of every dollar is spent on fundraising costs and 3 cents on operations. The UNRWA USA website has all of the 990 tax forms available for viewing and downloading.
  • The majority of UNRWA’s annual budget comes from voluntary contributions from donor states, such as the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, and Nordic States, individual donors, and NGOs. Reductions in donor states’ contributions due to the slow economic recovery, and the ongoing crises in Gaza and Syria, have left UNRWA with significant budget shortfalls, making contributions from private donors, such as individuals and foundations, all the more crucial.
  • More than half of UNRWA’s regular budget is devoted to education. UNRWA believes that education is essential to Palestinians’ future and to stability in the region. UNRWA’s education programs aim to encourage a tolerant and empowered Palestinian population who can serve as partners in peace.
  • UNRWA is a direct service provider, it doesn’t contract out its work to any third parties, and 99% of the 33,000 person staff across Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine, are refugees themselves, so the admin costs go toward paying the salaries of refugees who are support families of 5+ people. UNRWA’s staff works tirelessly to uplift their communities while facing the same hardships as the people they serve — sometimes even risking their lives.
  • UNRWA is the most trusted way to help Palestine refugees. In fact, the United States government has historically been the single largest donor. In light of the recent funding crisis, donating provides urgently needed assistance and shows our government that Americans care about Palestine refugees — and that it needs to continue supporting them.

In May 2018, both of my US Senators from New Mexico signed on to a letter written by Senator Bernie Sanders urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to restore the funding to UNRWA. I urge you to check the letter to see whether your US Senator signed on. You may contact Congress using UNRWA USA’s online form here.

And please donate to my #Gaza5K campaign if you haven’t already, and share it with your friends on social media or email.

 

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Rising above the cacophony

The cuts in Gaza are “making an intolerable humanitarian crisis even more life-threatening,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. He added: “Now the very organization mandated specifically to provide lifesaving services is being forced to cut service provisions. It’s heartbreaking.”

Gaza boys flag beach

My fourth year raising donations for the #Gaza5K walk/run fundraiser for Gaza, and you would think I’d be a professional by now and know all the tricks.

This year is most definitely the toughest — both for the refugees in Gaza and for soliciting donations. In the past, I’ve raised between $1,000 and $2,000 for UNRWA-USA. However, Trump’s decision to significantly reduce the U.S. share of UNRWA’s budget has sparked a crisis in Gaza and I’ve stretched my goal to $3,000. I’m going to have to think outside of the box.

Please check my fundraising page here, share it & contribute if you can.

The situation in Gaza has reached a state of “collapse,” a Palestinian engineer told me a couple of weeks ago. He’s worked for UNRWA in Gaza for 13 years, and received his pink slip the day we talked, notifying him that his job ends in December. Like many of his colleagues who also learned the same news, he has a family to support. The stress and worry about the future are grinding them down.

running 1The Washington Post reported on July 25th: The United States has provided just $60 million for UNRWA this year, compared with $360 million last year. The reduction in funding came after President Trump criticized the money provided to the Palestinians even though they were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

 

Unless UNRWA can plug the funding gap, the agency has said it may have to cut essential health and education programs, and it has warned in particular that it may have to delay the start of the school year for 526,000 children in the agency’s schools.

Please check my fundraising page here, share it & contribute if you can.

So what are my thoughts outside of the box for raising $3,000 by mid-September?

  • I’m asking readers of my blog to contribute any amount, small or large. I’m more interested in the number of contributors than I am of the size of your donation. $5, $10, $25 helps a lot.
  • I’m asking readers of my blog to share this fundraising appeal with friends and family, and post it to your social media.
  • I’m making phone calls to people because a personal ask is sometimes more effective than an anonymous request on social media.
  • I’m checking with alternative media in ABQ to see if I can publish an appeal in the weekly papers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
  • I’m circulating my fundraising campaign to the traditional Palestine solidarity activist groups to see if they will pitch in.
  • I’m planning an event or party in Albuquerque in early September to bring people together, update them on the collapsing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and ask for their contributions.
  • If I need to, I may have to find something of value in my storage unit to sell to make up the difference.

If you have other ideas outside of the traditional fundraising box, please let me know.

Please check my fundraising page here, share it & contribute if you can.

 

 

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Iftar for Gaza

Ramadan is a holy time for Muslims around the world when they celebrate the moment the Koran was unveiled to Muhammad. It’s a time of fasting, praying and reflection. It’s also a time to forgive and ask for forgiveness, which I find very healing. Whether Muslim or not, the world would be a better place if we followed this instruction.

So I ask forgiveness from friends, family and anyone I have hurt this past year. And I forgive those who have slighted me, hurt me or disappointed me.  A new year and a new beginning.

IFTAR for GAZA

To honor my friends in Gaza and to raise funds for UNRWA-USA, I organized an Iftar in Albuquerque with friends and neighbors. The Iftar is the meal to break the daily fast after sunset.

Laura Stokes and good food

We met at Sahara Restaurant on Central Avenue for delicious food — Basmati rice, falafel, hummous, dolmas, shawarnah, and fattoush salad. As I watched my guests serving themselves, I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count.  I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them.

Samia Assed 3

Samia Assed provided a touching introduction to Ramadan, the significance of the Iftar, and why zakat (donations) is considered a very important part of Islam. She discussed the crisis in Gaza and how difficult life is for many families. Since Trump has decided to reduce the U.S. contribution to UNRWA by 83%, the only lifeline that many Palestinians must rely on for their basic sustenance is in serious danger.

Hence, the reason for my Iftar.

For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.  Thanks to generous friends, I’ve raised enough to feed 7 families and will continue reaching out to the community near and far until I meet my goal. Online donations are graciously accepted here.

This was a great chance to network. Laura Stokes announced that PDA will be showing the film Radiance of Resistance,  the story of nonviolent persistence and resistance by the Palestinian people against the theft and occupation of their lands.  This film features the courageous actions of two Palestinian girls, one of whom is now in an Israeli prison.   

June 13, 2018
First Unitarian Church
3701 Carlisle Blvd. NE Albuquerque
5:30 PM MINGLE, 6:00 PM PROGRAM

Thank you friends!   Your hearts and words at the Iftar cheered me and provided me more sustenance than you can ever imagine.

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Iftar in Albuquerque

Ramadan in Cairo

Waiting for sunset in Cairo for the Iftar meal

During Ramadan (this year May 15 through June 14), Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal known as Suhur and a sunset meal called Iftar.

This year I’m hosting an Iftar for my Muslim and non-Muslim friends in Albuquerque to raise funds for food-insecure refugee families in Gaza. For $150, UNRWA-USA can provide a package providing enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer. My goal is to raise $1500 to help 10 families in Gaza.

The date and location of my Iftar in Albuquerque will be announced soon, perhaps with an extra surprise thrown in. I hope you will consider donating online, and help me reach my goal before the end of May.

Following the US funding cuts in January 2018, many of UNRWA’s programs are at risk, including emergency food assistance for the nearly one million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip who are relying on UNRWA to meet their basic needs.

With 47% of households in Gaza food insecure, this Ramadan, I am committed to doing something about it by hosting an Iftar for Gaza.

Please consider making a donation before attending the iftar, so we can tally our impact!

By joining this nationwide movement, we’re not only putting food on the table for a Palestine refugee family — we’re also sending the message that Americans care.

Thank you for helping me reach my goal and for providing a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip!

Donations to UNRWA’s cash and food assistance programs are zakat eligible as certified by the National Zakat Foundation. For other ways to help this month or for information on how to host an Iftar for Gaza, please visit unrwausa.org.

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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.

302141_4779260885332_609743370_n
Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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