In 2007 a small Congregational church on Cape Cod called a new minister who came from Old Lyme, wanted to hold a program on Israel/Palestine, and asked for volunteers to help organize it. That was my introduction to Tree of Life and afforded me the opportunity to meet some wonderful young people and not only hear about their challenges living under Occupation in the West Bank, but also their hopes and dreams for the future. Since then I have traveled to Palestine four times and hosted many young visitors to the Cape, who shared their experiences, culture and music at our programs.
Palestinian families have the same aspirations as parents and children in the United States and as their Jewish Israeli neighbors. They value education, want to go to college, get jobs to support themselves and contribute to the economic progress of their country. For Palestinians, pursuing an education may require negotiating checkpoints on their trip from home to school or internship and being subjected to the indecencies inherent in that process, or especially in Hebron being harassed by violent Jewish settlers while walking to school. In 2015 Tree of Life hosted two young women who had persevered and were graduating from Bethlehem University to pursue careers in medical fields. They viewed education as an effective, non-violent means of resisting the Israeli occupation; as an essential way to magnify their roles in their communities and to advocate for Palestinian women; and as a means to empower Palestinians in shaping a peaceful future that protects their culture and values.
These dedicated young women were recipients of Tree of Life college scholarships. Almost 10 years ago the Tree of Life board made a commitment to fund tuition at a 4-year Palestinian college for select young women and men, through graduation. Over the years most have attended Bethlehem University with a few going to Al Quds or Birzeit. Unlike the high tuitions in the U.S., one semester has ranged from $700-$950.
Two years ago we changed our mode of supporting students. Instead of direct support, we decided to offer scholarships through two organizations, who select the students with the most financial need and monitor the students’ progress for us. We are grateful for our partnership with the Al Rowwad Cultural Center, who assists us with our scholarships in the West Bank. The students live in the Dheisheh, Beit Jebrin, Aida Camps and in the area around Bethlehem. The Middle East Children’s Alliance assists us with our scholarships for students in Gaza. Additionally, Tree of Life has had a long-standing relationship with the Greek Orthodox Shepherd’s School (K-12) in Beit Sahour, and we now provide financial assistance to those families.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We hope that through support of our scholarship program you will help Tree of Life create a better world for the youth of Palestine.
Elaine F. Brouillard
Tree of Life Educational Fund
The Tree of Life Educational Fund has provided scholarships to Palestinian university students since the Fall of 2011. The students would not have been able to attend school without our support. Since 2011, we have provided funds for many Palestinian students to complete their bachelor’s degrees in a wide variety of studies. We are proud of their success. It is not easy to concentrate on a degree living under the threat of occupation and continuous violence. Your continued support is essential.
Middle East Childrens’ Alliance (MECA)
Each year, MECA provides more than 100 university scholarships at Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza to enable dedicated students to obtain degrees and the skills to make important contributions to their communities and their country. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, along with the siege of the Gaza Strip, creates multiple obstacles for students pursuing higher education. Getting to and from school is difficult and the economic deterioration makes it very hard for families to afford university tuition. Palestinian students in Gaza are prevented from leaving the country to attend universities in other parts of the world.
Here is the story of one of those scholarship recipients, Mona Abu Yousef, who is studying education at Al Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine:
“During the last war on Gaza, our house was completely destroyed. Today, we live in a small house of one room for the whole family. This difficult situation negatively affected my academic achievement. I almost had to drop out my studying because of the economic situation which reached the worst level after the war. However, MECA scholarship was a lifeline for me to overcome these miserable situations and continue my studying. The most horrible moment in my life was when we had to flee from our homes. I think people throughout the world would learn a lot about Palestinians if they just experienced one minute of war. Our only desire is to have the right to live, no more and no less. One minute can change everything in Gaza. Our dream is to have peace and safety.”
So far in 2020, Tree of Life has donated $7,000 to MECA. In FY 2019, $5,000 of scholarship money from the Tree of Life Educational Fund was donated to MECA to support 10 university scholarships for Gaza students. The students attend Al Aqsa University and Al Azhar University. The scholarships range from $300-$1,000 each.
So far in 2020, Tree of Life has donated $7,000 to Al Rowwad. In FY 2019, $5,000 of scholarship money was donated to Al Rowwad Cultural Center for 9 university students at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem and from other refugee camps as well. Students major in subjects of their own choosing and are re-evaluated each year on the basis of need and academic accomplishment.
Shepherds’ High School
We also support the Shepherds’ High School in Beit Sahour with an annual gift of $5,000 to help with scholarships for elementary and high school children, relying upon our friend, George Sa’adeh for the administration of these scholarships. George sent us this note of thanks in 2020:
We would like to thank you for your generous donation by paying the amount of $5,000 as part of the tuition fees for thirty five needy students for the scholastic year 2019/2020. We consider you a true friend for the school and for the children. We appreciate your support. God bless you.
Education in a Bottle
Last year we sold 1.5 tons of organic fair trade Palestinian olive oil. After our expenses, all the proceeds are used to support our academic scholarships, and so we like to refer to the sale of olive oil as our “Education in a Bottle” program. The olives that produce this oil come from farms in Palestine, near Nablus. Families continue to work their land despite challenges such as water shortages and being encroached upon by illegal settlements. These farmers are an example of non-violent resistance to the occupation. Those who purchase our olive oil not only provide financial support for academic scholarships but also support for Palestinian farmers and their families.
To purchase olive oil in Southeastern Connecticut:
OMAR THE OLIVE OIL MAN!
When I was child, our family would drive by the Omar Bread factory in downtown Indianapolis on our way to church. The aroma was powerful, and each week we looked forward to a delivery from Omar The Bread Man to our home. I would like to offer my services as “Omar the Olive Oil Man”, my new avatar! Back in January and February we sold a lot of Palestinian olive oil, but these record setting sales came to halt with the closure necessitated by Covid 19. If you live in Southeastern Connecticut and If you send me your order by email – email@example.com – wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, I would be happy to volunteer to deliver olive oil to your home. All the proceeds go to our Tree of Life Educational scholarships for Palestinian students. We call this our “Education in a Bottle” Scholarship Fund. Please send me your order – $25 for a 750 ml bottle, $50 for a 3 Liter tin and $20 for a 1 Liter tin. Cash or checks payable to TOLEF will be gratefully received upon delivery or you can mail them to Tree of Life Educational Fund, P.O. Box 968, Old Lyme, CT. 06371.
Omar the Olive Oil Man. (David W. Good)