Category Archives: Abraham

Annual Review – from the 2014 Annual Report & Acounts

The following is extracted from the 2014 Annual Report  just published by the UK Friends of Abraham’s Path.

Click 2014 Annual Report & Accounts  to download a copy of the full document or here to read the Statement of Public Benefit.

Review of the Year

A journey in Jordan 

Our second UK-led journey took a mixed-age group of 12 people on an adventure to walk in northern Jordan, partly on the most well-established segment of the Abraham Path (first developed by a party of Jordanian and British students from Yarmouk and Leeds Metropolitan Universities in 2008, led by the API t team in north Jordan) and partly on new trail territory that has just opened up all the way north to Pella. It was a beautiful four days walking in varied landscapes from the hills of Ajloun down to the Jordan valley. However, for many of on the trip, arguably the most poignant memories arise from our three days of community service at the end of our walk. We spent one day in an ecological park helping prepare a garden and filling plastic bottles with sand to make a bird hide wall; then two days with Syrian refugees – at a tented village in South Amman and visiting some abandoned shacks near the border now housing ten families. A short account of the visit is given at the back of this report and there is a longer, very detailed account on our website.

A visit to the uk

In a turn of the tables, the UK Friends played host in May to a group from the Middle East in 2014. Four media students from Jenin University and their teacher Dr Rola Jadallah arrived in London for a packed week of activities. Coming from a very restricted background at home, they were eager for every experience, from a trip down Oxford Street to attending a village Church for Sunday Service. UK Friends Anam, Brendan and Rukiyah took them on a series of whistle stop tours around London while Louise provided beds and breakfast at home. Thanks to a generous donation from another UK Friend, we were able to fund their stay here – and we hope to have repaid at least some of the hospitality we experience on our trips to their home towns.

Student trip to Israel and Palestine

For the second year running Leeds Metropolitan University (now renamed Leeds Beckett) ran a student volunteering and walking trip to Israel and Palestine.  We were delighted to see this journey establish itself with on-the-ground leadership from Oriel Kenney as well as the student volunteering office. A re-design of the previous year’s experience to bring a little more balance refined the trip and it again achieving good support from the students. A detailed account of the trip by one of the participants is given at the back of this Report

Schoolchildren waving to walkers (left); media students from Jenin on the South Bank in London 

Outreach and education

With such good Path resources now available from the API’s online guide, The UK Friends decided it was time for a re-build and to focus our website on outreach.  We now have a simpler, easier to update website with a special page of the names and faces of people who are willing to talk to prospective travellers about their experiences and to help encourage self-organising travellers.

We were fortunate enough to attract a grant from SOAS to fund an intern to help us with outreach and even more fortunate to recruit Masters student Mia Tamarin to the role.  Regrettably the outbreak of conflict between Gaza and Israel just as Mia started with us led to a decision to postpone until a more auspicious time the direct outreach programme we had planned in order to recruit more Friends.  Instead Mia focussed on building a solid set of data for the future, supporting a traveller survey and research work being led by the API and organising in Leeds an information and celebration event for the end of her internship. With a lot of volunteer help, for which we are extremely grateful, this was a great success and had given us many new Friends who we hope will join us on future journeys.

Donations and funds

In the year ended December 31st 2014, the charity received donations of £4,295.

These donations have been used, primarily to fund the following:

  • Work on the UK Friends’ website
  • An information and celebration for the public held in Leeds
  • A visit to the UK for students from Jenin University
  • Programme work by the API and local partners in the Middle East, including support for hospitality and guide training

During the year we established with HMRC gift aid refunding. This enabled the charity to match fund a grant from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) for employing a student intern on a variety of community research and outreach projects.

We would like to thank all our donors for their great generosity which makes this possible.

We will continue to work with API to attract donations in the UK for our stated purposes.

Future priorities

The significant step forward made by the API in providing in-depth resource for travellers – including the extensive online guide with downloadable maps – means that some of the work of the UK charity will be rethought in 2015.  Our priorities are primarily outreach and education, journey design and helping support programme work in the Middle East.

The Path itself has gone through a time of change and challenge. On the one hand there has been extensive development and growth – there is nearly 1000 miles of trail to be walked now and countless connections have been made between diverse Middle Eastern communities and international travellers. The Path has attracted support from major international funders such as the World Bank, notable stories in the media (including being voted the No 1 new trail by National Geographic Traveller), and the attention of the international travel market.  On the other hand, the horrific outcomes of conflict – not least the Gaza War, which broke out literally as the Leeds Met students started home from Israel – has been a major setback to tourism and travel in the region.

So it is difficult right now to encourage and to lead the kind of journeys we hope British travellers will want to make:  journeys that deepen appreciation of this wonderful part of the world; journeys that connect us with the region’s endlessly hospitable and kind people; and journeys of self discovery as we face ourselves in the light of the reality we find when we visit.  However that IS our mission: it is unchanged and we will continue to seek ways to deliver.

Palestinian students in London

By Louise Sibley

It was an opportunity to pay back. How many times in the past five years has the generosity of the Palestinians overwhelmed me? So, when a distressed email dropped into my mailbox this Spring, I didn’t give it a second thought: “Stay at my place. Might mean mattresses on the floor and a bit of chaos, but we can make this work.”

Serendipity is a strange thing.   Only a few days earlier, with other members of the Abraham Path Initiative (API), I had been greedily tucking into a feast in the little village of Araba in the West Bank. I had sat quietly at the back while Deputy Mayor Dr Rola welcomed us, explaining how pivotal the path was in their vision. Later, I heard her enthuse about a forthcoming trip to England.   She was arranging a cultural tour with a British university for a media studies group at Jenin University where she teaches.  As we left, I slipped her my card: “if you come to London, please get in touch: you have given us such a welcome here.”  We hadn’t really met. But, along with my fellow-walkers, I had been moved by her speech and how positively she had reflected on the issues facing her village.

And that’s how it came about in late May, the original planned trip cancelled at short notice, that Dr Rola and four undergraduates left their homes in the West Bank and made their way to a suburb of West London. What struck me then, as now, was the act of trust. For a first trip abroad they were putting themselves in the hands of a complete stranger.

A view over Araba
A view over Araba
From Jenin to a West London suburb
From Jenin to a West London suburb

What followed was five of the most memorable days of the year. In glorious sunshine, we walked, ate, explored – London and each other – and became friends. My son Bren took the role of full-time escort, walked them from Westminster to Camden Town and, to my horror, kept the students out appallingly late at night; I took them to Sunday church and a Rotary Club meeting. Fellow UKFAP trustee Anam toured Brick Lane; Rukiyah – veteran of a Leeds Met journey in Israel and Palestine – crafted a whistle-stop tour of just about everything from British-style arcade shopping (no such thing in Jenin) to the Olympic Park. They breakfasted in style in Victoria to meet API Executive Director Stefan. Finally, in a pub overlooking the River Thames, Graham – one-time BBC employee – led a Q&A about media in the UK, from newspapers to reality TV.

Eye over London
Eye over London
South Bank skate park
South Bank skate park

So what do I reflect on now? First, the trust: coming from a land where offering welcome and shelter to strangers is a holy rule handed down from Abraham, our Palestinian visitors took it for granted they would be well looked after. They never questioned where they were taken, nor worried about the tight accommodation, strange food and the long days crossing London. They embraced every experience (particularly the shopping) and trusted they would get home at night even though they had no idea where they were.  At times it must have seemed very strange. Where in Jenin do you end the evening in a pub listening to an old-fashioned trad jazz band? What do you make of a post-service cup of tea with some puzzled but very welcoming parishioners of a small riverside church?

Second, OUR welcome. The people whom I asked to help didn’t miss a beat. Bren, Anam, Rukiyah, Graham, All-Saints Church parishioners, Rotary and, even though he wasn’t around during their trip, London-based API director Lionel whose generosity funded their travel cards and some classy meals out. We know about hospitality too. I’m so proud that, with no questions asked, we are able to mirror the experiences we all have on the path.

Finally, the magic that happens when people from completely different backgrounds and cultures get together. We know this. Anyone who has welcomed a stranger to dinner (even a friend of a friend) or crossed the equator has experienced this magic. So why is it so difficult to weave it into our daily lives? Why are we still so protective of our own? What would be different if every day, every week, every year we took a step toward genuine hospitality; the type that isn’t paid for, or measured, or expects thanks; the type that is just an open handed, open-hearted reaching out to strangers that makes them feel at home. And what if they responded with trust, without expectation, and without exploiting the gift. What would our world look like then?

Scaling the heights in an East End play park
Scaling the heights in an East End play park

Welcome to the UK Friends’ co-ordinator

Mia Tamarin
Mia Tamarin

A very warm welcome to Mia Tamarin, who has joined us on an internship as the UKFAP coordinator. She will work with us until the end of the year to help build connections with individuals and groups in the UK who are interested in walking and supporting the Abraham Path.  Mia, from Tel Aviv, is completing an MA in international law at SOAS, University of London, following her Batchelor’s degree at Leeds Met University in peace studies and international relations. Mia is a United World College scholar, a global educational movement for peace and a sustainable future, and studied for two years in New Mexico with UWC-USA.

Mia says: “I believe that, while these are challenging times for anyone from or engaged with the Middle East, the Abraham Path is a place where people can learn about the region, see it through different eyes, experience its magic and connect with the diverse range of cultures it embraces. It is the AP vision – to inspire understanding, communities that can prosper, and hope for humanity – which attracted me to this position.

“Although this isn’t a great moment to invite people to walk, we hope people will join us and continue to support this unique project. I shall be doing everything I can to promote our vision for the path and to encourage supporters and walkers.”

National Geographic rates the Abraham Path the #1 New Walking Trail in the World!

Photo courtesy of Abraham Path Initiative

Ben walked with Habib, a long-time guide on the Abraham Path in the Palestine.
Ben walked with Habib, a long-time guide on the Abraham Path in the Palestine.

National Geographic Traveller rates the Abraham Path the world’s #1 new walking trail. The path truly comes to life in this beautiful traveler’s piece which you can read here.

National Geographic‘s Ben Lerwill writes, “The landscape has a hardiness that conceals gifts: mistletoe, wagtails, dragonflies and pink cyclamen. … We sleep in welcoming homestays. I learn that lamb-filled flatbreads and pomegranate juice make good hiking fuel, and the valleys glow gold at first light.”

From Harran to Urfa

By Jeanne Coker

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Our journey on Abraham’s Path (AP) took us to the very start of the four thousand year old story of the prophet Abraham (Ibrahim) – to his (contested) birth place in Sanliurfa, Turkey, and to Harran, where he is recorded as receiving the call from God to set out on his wanderings Our journey took us through remote rural villages some of which were opening their doors for the first time to international travellers.


Our starting point was the Kurdish village of Yuvacali where Alison Tanik (originally from Burton -on-Trent and now an Abraham’s Path representative) lives with her husband and two young children. Here she has set up a local tourism business to encourage visitors to her adopted homeland and supported the establishment by the local community of a 105-mile (170km) walking route in South Eastern Anatolia.

The village has been settled since the dawn of civilization. Sumerian cuneiform tablets have been found in the mound, created by humans and dominating the village. Its more recent settlement is by Jews, Armenians and Kurds. Remains from 9 000 BC have been uncovered in the neighbouring village of Nevali Cori. The fields are literally littered with materials from earlier civilisations – outlines of the buildings, pieces of pottery, Roman roof tiles, very early cutting implements, etc. A piece of a (small) Roman column is used to roll the earth on a flat roof.

The once-abundant river water supply has shrunk due to the Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates and the implementation of the South-Eastern Anatolian Project known as GAP, a multi billion dollar project of Turkey. Instead, households have piped water but water for irrigation is some 100m below the surface.The Turkish government has made recent improvements in the area so we found piped water and sewage systems, although toilet and washing facilities are still simple. Sleeping on the floor on mattresses was very comfortable. We sat on the carpeted floor for our meals.

School starts aged seven, but if you have not registered the birth until your child is two years old then your child starts school at nine! There is a primary school in the village – one class where younger children are taught in the morning and older ones in the afternoon. All education is in Turkish so these Kurdish speakers start with a disadvantage. There is no concession to dual language teaching. Adult literacy and Turkish speakers are both about 50%. Kurdish speakers are disadvantaged as, for example, they cannot speak to a doctor or the police. The pre-school from the age of four was opened in 2009 and equipped by visitors on Nomad tours and now supported by travellers on Abraham’s path.

Average life expectancy is 70 in Istanbul but here it is 58. The last generation had up to twenty children. This generation is now seven. Infant mortality runs at 20% – 30%. The village is home to four extended families and 80% marry cousins. One of the prevalent outcomes is gestational diabetes (large babies).

Most people are self-sufficient in many foodstuffs but average income is less than a dollar a day which is well below the poverty line. Home-stays, which are well established here, make a huge difference to the participating families – eight households are involved in the project. Due to the income from travellers home-stays now have immersion boilers which was a pleasant surprise!

Typical jobs created are:

  • Drivers – pick up from the airport, luggage carrying service
  • Providers of breakfast, dinner and packed lunches
  • Households for home stay – 2 involved for a maximum of 12 guests.
  • Escorts – a local person walks with the group each day but is not, by Turkish law, a guide as such. Our escort, Orhan, accompanied us and was invaluable – talking to local people en route who allowed us to use their toilet and offered us the invariable glass of tea.

In the household where we stayed both parents are illiterate. Life has been transformed for their children. Faruk is at university, Fartih is developing the tourism business and Aylin is at boarding school. The role of women has also been changed. Pero (the mother of the household) is very confident interacting with her guests. She encouraged us women to help her make the unleavened bread. We were not very good at it – it needs a lot of strength!

Our wandering starts

We were driven to Harran where Abraham lived (about 2,000 BC) before answering God’s call to go to Canaan – “When Abraham was 75 years old he set out from Harran”, Genesis 12 v.4. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, also lived in Harran: “Jacob left Beersheba and went to Harran”, Genesis 28 v.10. Jacob’s sons (except Benjamin) were born in Harran. It was a caravan city at this time – a nomadic time. Jacob’s well is being turned into a tourist attraction. Islam’s first university was built here during the 8th Century and many important scholars of natural science, astronomy, and medicine originate from Harran; they were non-Arab and non-Islamic ethnic Assyrians.

From there, like Abraham, our walk started.

Walking to Bazda

Having sampled the sights of Harran we set off on our 20km walk to Bazda. For most of the journey we see the structure and product of the GAP project. Green fields which once were desert (the crops look very healthy to my urban eye!); water troughs alongside the road; flexible irrigation pipes with sprinklers that farmers move from field to field – and one huge artificial channel not yet filled with water.

We sit under trees in Koyunluca where local women come to “talk” to us. Sign language leads to an invitation to sit on chairs on the veranda of a local home and drink tea. The women are all wearing beautiful traditional dress. One – a newly wed – has a stunning outfit but does not want to be photographed. She has come to live with her husband’s family and is still rather shy. This is quite a prosperous home with a tiled toilet attached to the house. Nearby is some sparkling new farm machinery and I observe someone using the road grader on the back of a tractor to flatten the approach to his house. These people seem to have benefited rapidly from GAP. We are told farms are becoming larger: families are losing their smallholding and work for the larger landowners.

The desert hills appear as we approach Bazda. On arrival we are surprised to see a village shop. We sit at a table and sample the ice cream!

Here are fantastic caves where rock has been hewn for the buildings in Harran. Overnight we stay with a local Arabic family – Arab communities now dominate. We are privileged to be their first home-stay guest.

On to Suayb

Well fed and rested, we set off next day for the 18km stretch to Suayb and the shrine of Jethro (father-in-law to Moses). The scenery is rocky desert with occasional green fields, lots of sheep and occasional cows. Families club together to pay a shepherd for the year. Mid morning we pass through Goktas and the remains of Han el Ba’rur caravanserai, built in 1128 to accommodate passing traders and their animals. This is a well-marked historic site so people, used to visitors, demonstrate washing and pounding their grain. Children follow us around the site and I notice one with very blue eyes – evidence of the mix of people who have passed through this place.

Arriving in Suayb we are met by some young people who took us to our home-stay where people are also hosting visitors for the first time and make us very welcome. After resting our weary feet for a short time the children take us to explore their historic site – a hill that hides a whole underground village stretching from hillside to hillside. The children demonstrate this by disappearing underground and then popping up all over the place. One area is still used as a place of worship. We visit Jethro’s shrine where there are wall drawings.

 A night in Sogmator

Another 18km to travel to the isolated village of Sogmator, where once sun worship was the order of the day. We are now firmly in rocky desert. There are a few irrigated fields. I see where the irrigation pipes go under the road and there are women moving the flexible hoses in the field. This appears to be the furthest reach of GAP. It is a lovely day and I am intent on making the most of this wonderful scenery. There are desert flowers in abundance and I note sixteen different flowers (but cannot name any of them!). The village was important in the cult of Sin. Hilltop temples to various planets litter the landscape. A cave with moon god statues is in the centre of the village. There is script carved into some of the rocks on the top of the hillsides. Coptic? Syriac?

To rest in Sanluirfa

On our final day we make an early start to reach Gobekli Tepe by bus before the main tourists arrive. It is a temple dating from 9,500BC, discovered in 1994 and still being excavated. The discovery of this temple has altered the way archaeologists and anthropologists think of the development of civilisation. It was thought that places of worship were built after people became agriculturalists but there is no evidence of agriculture around the temple site.

And so finally we are taken into to the city centre of nearby Sanliurfa (or Urfa) to visit the birthplace of Abraham and the sacred fishponds. It is strange to be back in the traffic and in a town once again.

But for all that GAP has brought almost instant wealth to some and that Goblekli Tepe will soon have one of a worldwide chain of hotels built nearby, the area is still very conservative. Long trousers were the order of the day for walking and long skirts for the women inside the house. Women are not allowed out of the house on their own and family ties are strong.

And so, far from the Mediterranean resorts which for so many characterise a holiday in Turkey, our visit has taken us to a world apart, and a culture still embedded in a time traceable to man’s earliest settlements.