Change through Roots

WOW (pun intended), a lot has happened since I last posted here! Members of the Roots team and volunteers built a new animal pen and bought a goat, built a temporary new kitchen which will hopefully one day become a guesthouse, and are in the process of building a bigger kitchen with an office space above it. We also held five interfaith break-fasts during Ramadan, a leadership training retreat for core activists, photography workshops for children, photography workshops for women, educational youth trips, history lectures, and many meetings and information sessions to spread the word about this exciting work and create communal paradigm shifts in how each side sees the other.

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Our newest member of the Roots team!

For my part, firstly, I finally got the cameras out of customs! I also have delved into the world of PR, developing the Friends of Roots Facebook Page and taking over the website as well. I have helped advertise events and send follow up emails to attendees. I am also responsible for recording donation information and sending thank-you emails to donors. It may not sound like a lot, but it is certainly filling up my time! The work is not glamorous, but I am very happy and feel quite fortunate to be able to help out an organization and people that I admire with the things they don’t have time for, so that they can take care of the rest of what needs to get done. Additionally, I am feeling more and more like part of the team and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas with the leadership.

In addition to my work at Roots, I have taken advantage of my time here by participating in an Encounter trip to Bethlehem, an emotional movie screening with Combatants for Peace, a prayer service with Women of the Wall, and few classes at the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and other events. I also hope to join part of the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s summer school next week.

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Pictures from the gay pride parade in Jerusalem

As a result of this internship, I am learning a lot about the ins and outs of establishing a young organization. I am also learning how to use public relations methodologies, how to run a website, and how to use Salesforce. I am learning about the use of art in resolving conflicts and brainstorming ideas – through the Roots photography classes and sessions on the leadership retreat. Most of all, I am learning that creating change is a process – sometimes a slow process – that can be effectuated through one person at a time.

These skills that I am developing will certainly be transferable back to Brandeis and my eventual career. The patience I am learning in effectuating change is crucial in maintaining hope for the vision of this social justice internship and cause. I know that we cannot fix the world in one day, but the more individuals we reach, the stronger our message will be in order to influence our communities, our leaders, and society at large.

-Rivka (Rebecca) Cohen ’17

On Leaving Project Harmony Israel: I could never forget you Oh Jerusalem

It is bittersweet to be leaving Project Harmony Israel, to be leaving Jerusalem, the children and staff I have come to know, this country. In many ways I have met my summer internship goals of developing language proficiency in Hebrew, developing my leadership and conflict resolution skills within a work setting, and making memories/forming personal relationships with those who are different from me and learn how to allow that alternative perspective to enlighten my own. However, meeting these goals came in largely different forms than I expected, and some of them evolved because of that. For instance, developing language proficiency in Hebrew became more centered on becoming proficient in certain conversational settings regarding art and food as well as a proficiency in deeper understanding the politics of language in Jerusalem. So, while I did not become more proficient in my Hebrew at large, I became very good at buying groceries, haggling for bargains, naming colors and explaining art projects, and most importantly I became aware of the politics of language (Arabic v. English v. Hebrew) in Jerusalem. Developing my leadership and conflict resolution skills within a work setting came from taking on an authoritarian position, delegating tasks, and creating a cohesive vision and then following through with it even when schedules had to be re-arranged and staffing changed. Part of developing my leadership and solving conflicts in the classroom also meant learning to strike a balance between having fun and maintaining clear boundaries. This balanced allowed for natural memory making because I was more focused on forming personal relationships rather than constantly having to prove my authority. Making memories and creating bonds with my campers and some volunteers for Project Harmony gave me a lot to think about regarding Palestinian rights, identity politics, and the need for A-political (or normalized) environments as complimentary spaces for youth in Israel. I learned from my conversations with campers as young as 10 and as old as 15 that contact is the first step towards recognition, which is the way towards relationships and, ultimately, respect.

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Project Harmony Israel’s Identity Flag sits behind Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin at a press conference.

My internship with Project Harmony Israel has undoubtedly solidified my interest in working in Israel and for the betterment of the state through person-to-person interactions. I think it has also given me a deeper understanding of where my observational skills, leadership skills, and cross-cultural curiosity are best utilized. I certainly learned that I am more flexible than I imagined, that I can manage my time well and think of projects at the last minute, and that I am capable of both working alone and as a team to build a positive educational environment for both Jews and Arabs. I think this ties into what I am most proud of looking back on my work. I am so so proud of the children I came to know and the space I created with them. Together, we completed over ten projects, including an identity flag mural that was presented to Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin.

 

I am also very proud to have been a part of an organization that encourages dialogue, and to have been a witness to the incredible kinds of conversations that occurred at this camp, including the sharing of other peace organizations and being present for a Jewish boy’s first time experiencing an integrated environment and making an Arab friend. There was actually mention of Ori’s experience in the Hand in Hand Newsletter, which you can read here. I will quote it briefly though,

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Campers Yarden and Basel carry the mural into President Revlon’s home.

“How is it that my kids don’t like Arabs? I’ve always taught them that we are all equal, but somehow my 11 year old thinks all Arabs are bad – how does that happen?

I sent Ori to Project Harmony this summer because I thought it would be good for him. He was scared at the beginning, but the staff at camp was warm and supportive, and he opened up and started playing sports with the other kids. After a few weeks in camp, he came home and told me: “You know what, Ima, you were right. My Arab friends are really cool, and I can learn from them, maybe they can come over?” That was everything for me. I know change doesn’t happen overnight, but this was a start. I told him that my granparents and my father spoke Arabic, and as an Iraqi Jew, the language is part of our heritage too. You can’t judge people by their religion or ethnicity. Being part of Hand in Hand is about really understanding and living the equality I believe in.”

This is a community that gives to each other and I am so proud and grateful to have been and to continue to be a part of its work.

-Risa Dunbar ’17

Dominican Republic and the Preservation of the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano Cultures

The Fundacion Cultural Cofradia, is a non-profit organization that promotes and preserves the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions in the Dominican Republic. Cofradia is located in Santo Domingo, the capital, but their mission extends throughout different regions of the country. They work closely with the portadores de cultura, which are the people in the community in charge of keeping these traditions, in order to provide support in the areas most needed. This support comes in different forms, such as the creation of schools, workshops and festivals centered on these traditions.

People dancing perico ripiao in Yamasá

I contribute to their mission in two different ways, the office and field work. As part of the office work I file documents, communicate with el Ministerio de Cultura, (the government office in charge of approving the projects and providing the monetary support) and follow up in the updates of previous projects. During the fieldwork, the Cofradia team and I travel to diverse parts of the country and visit the communities that most need our support. Here, I interviewed the portadores de cultura on their traditions and how they function in the communities. I also document events by photography and videos which are later used as documentation to create new projects.
Last summer I traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit some family members. As part of my visit I wanted to learn more about the Afro-Dominican traditions. When I expressed this to my aunt she put me in contact with the Director of Cofradia, Roldán Marmol.  Director Mármol invited me to a fiesta de palo, a religious practice that mixes African and Taino religious beliefs with Catholicism. Later I expressed my interested in learning more about these traditions and religions. He told me about his organization and we discussed the possibility of an internship.

Gagá group
Gagá group

 

During my first week of work I met the entire team of my co-workers and learned about the projects they been working on.  I was provided with books and articles that talked about the diverse traditions of the Dominican Republic. That week we participated in the celebration of San Antonio sponsored by the Brothers Guillen in Yamasa. There I photographed the event and first experienced Gaga, a tradition born out of the sharing of cultures between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For me, it was the first time, since I arrived to the island, that I have witnessed such a harmonious and unifying manifestation of the two countries traditions living as one.

The more I work with Cofradia the more I realize the importance of providing visibility to the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions. One cannot set apart these traditions with their communities, which means that if the traditions remain invisible and unappreciated the community suffers the same condition. These traditions are rich in knowledge, dance, music, art and history. I want to learn how to work with both the communities and the government to create projects that support the preservation and changes, that come naturally with time and new generations, of these traditions.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana