Warming relations over a long distance!

by Bob Publicover, St. Francis by the Sea Senior Warden

Last fall a group of Maine Episcopalians from a dozen congregations (including St. Francis) traveled to Israel and Palestine. 16-10-29 Ramallah Voc Schl - 1 (2)The Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF)/Diocese of Maine pilgrimage was and is focused on the life and experience of Palestinian Christians. We learned about their work in the region as well as the worship of the Episcopal Church and other Christian communities; the life of Christians today as they live either under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank or as they live as second class citizens of Israel under dozens of discriminatory laws.

As Pilgrimage co-organizer Maurine Tobin explained, “Like Palestinian Muslims, Christians live under dire circumstances but retain their faith and engagement in life with remarkable steadfastness (samud in Arabic), often supported by Jewish advocates for justice.”

One of our stops was to meet the students of Giovanni Anbar, Director of the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center of Ramallah Founded in 2001.

It’s mission says it is: “To improve the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of Palestinian youth in Ramallah and the surrounding areas so that they can become creative and productive members of society through technological education, vocational training, music and arts instruction, communication skills development, and the building of intercultural understanding.”

Gio’s family, like so many in Palestine, are refugees, forced from their home in Ramle (now in Israel) in 1948 at gun point by the Israeli paramilitary. He has only lived as a refugee.

The Episcopal bishop offered Giovanni Anbar an abandoned building in Ramallah. Somehow over the years, through fund-raising, tenacity, and faith, he has gone from being the sole teacher/administrator of a one room computer lab to director of a program with 25 teachers, an extensive computer training program and a guesthouse/restaurant which acts as a lab for the students in the hotel and hospitality program.

We toured the facility and were moved by what we learned.

It was just one of the many emotional visits on this Pilgrimage.

When we returned to Maine we learned there was money left in the kitty and as a group we decided the fastest help we can provide was warmth. Pilgrimage co-organizers Maurine and Bob Tobin picked up the story just a few weeks ago: “We met with Giovanni Friday evening to present to him the remaining funds from the Diocese of Maine/EPF Pilgrimage, which the group had designated to buy desperately needed heating units for 2 classrooms.

This “before” picture shows students huddled around a small space heater. It has been unusually cold and wet here in the Holy Land and students are trying to work on computers and study in near freezing temperatures with only tiny space heaters for warmth. While the temperatures may not be cold by Maine standards just now, these old stone buildings without central heat are bone chilling.”

Now the heaters are already in place and working.

Gio, students and staff have sent a thank you note for warming their hearts and bodies.

The desire of those of us on the Pilgrimage is to develop an ongoing g relationship with the school so that we in Maine get to know students and faculty and connect personally with the stories of their daily lives.

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