Tag Archives: Abraham Path

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.

If it seems this is not the time to go for a walk – that is just why we should

This blog on the current situation in the Middle East has been contributed by Mia Tamarin who has just completed an internship with the Abraham Path Initiative and the UK Friends, aimed at extending support for the path in the UK and co-ordinating the UK Friends activity. Mia was born and raised in Tel Aviv. She holds a degree in Peace studies & International Relations and a Masters in International Law. She is currently living and working in the UK.

The fragility of the current situation in the Middle East is exceptional in many ways. Large and ongoing processes that were not always present before – revolution and destruction alongside some state-building – are having an impact on the region as a whole.

However, to those living there everyday life cannot be ‘exceptional’. Especially now when the so-called Middle East ‘situation’ has lasted so long: it is not just out-of-the-ordinary to be engaged with political life – living within some sort of conflict, resistance, or struggle is, in this region, ordinary. This is not to normalise the harsh realities that are daily life for people. It is not ‘normal’ by any stretch of the imagination to exist in survival mode every day. No-one, no matter where from, should have to accept this as the ultimate reality of life.

Nonetheless, it is important that the rest of the world, and in particular those countries who play a big role in the region and are passionate to reach solutions, do not alienate the everyday reality for many. Life in the Middle East goes on: surviving crisis is part of the ordinary day’s work – and often the life-long project of people. There is no ‘putting things on hold’ when a particular conflict kicks off; the conflict becomes the reason to keep going. Life itself is the only stream of hope for many; who hold on to a vision that one day the struggle will end and another kind of living prevail. And we must also appreciate that there is no a-political for those who live there; all life is political in this part of the world. Even staying silent, for those who turn from expressing political views, is taking a strong political stance.

That life itself is hope allows those of us who wish to engage in the region – without engaging in its politics – potentially to have a more meaningful impact. It is precisely through locally-focused and sustainable developments such as the Abraham Path represents, that the region slowly transitions towards peace in its cultural and structural sense.

Our partners in Palestine have continued their work in developing the path and engaging with the local communities throughout the year. To do otherwise would mean giving in to violence. For us living in the region, this is what life is about. There will never be a ‘good time’ to go out to walk. And while our reality may never attain the standards or stability that outsiders deem normal, we can work together towards progressive change.

Ahlan wa sahlan

With many thanks to Kelsey Whiting-Jones for this piece on the UK Friends’ walk in Jordan last May.

Some call them the ‘Three Musketeers” – Mahmoud, Abu Ibrahim, and Eisa – three local Abraham Path guides and leaders of the Al Ayoun Society. Mahmoud invites us to join in a song, huddled beneath the shade of a live oak tree. Abu Ibrahim bends down to show me a yellow plant that is used for stomach-aches. Eisa points to the hillside and explains the names of each peak and cave.

Abu Ibrahim, Eisa and Mahmoud: three Musketeers of Ajloun
Abu Ibrahim, Eisa and Mahmoud: three Musketeers of Ajloun

These trails run through their blood and they know shortcuts, where you can find the stunning black irises growing in April, or where to stop for a rest from walking and a enjoy cup of sage tea. They are proud of the landscape of their ancestors and of the history in the stones – the ruins of mosques, Byzantine mosaics, and castles. They tell tales of holy men – like the prophet Elijah –who have made this place a site of age-old pilgrimage. And they tell tales of the travelers they have come to meet on the path and made lasting friendships with. In the Ajloun region the path winds though forests, olive groves, and steep ravines. Huge boulders create narrow passages ways you nearly have to climb through. Summit vistas open out to rolling hills for as far as the eye can see. Through the haze you can spot the rolling hills of Israel and Palestine and on a clear day, even see the city of Jerusalem. Wildflowers bedeck path – purple hollyhocks, red poppies and little white daisies. You’ll wander through meadows pulling out little thistles and thorns from your trousers. Pistachio trees here, red-barked strawberry trees there. Tortoises may even join your walk. You will encounter countless flocks of sheep and goats, their bells tinkling through the valleys, accompanied by their herding dogs and friendly shepherds. Young boys on horses or donkeys many ride past you with a flicker of curiosity in their eyes. And as you pass through the hamlets along the route, school children will run to their windows giggling and calling you with shouts ‘Hello! What is your name!’ Shopkeepers and women in their homes will come out to greet you, saying Ahlan wa sahlan (loosely translated, it means: “May you arrive as part of the family, and tread an easy path” or “welcome”). They will invariably invite you in for tea. If it is hot out, you may be lucky enough to be offered a refreshing lemonade made green with the generous addition of mint leaves. The people on the path light up at the thought of sharing their hospitality with you – wherever you come from, wherever you are going. At the end of the day, my feet feel relieved as I take off my shoes to enter the homestay where I am spending the night at in the village of Orjan. Iman has spent the entire afternoon, after returning from her job as a school teacher, to prepare what was possibly be a feast unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The centerpiece is maqluba – a fragrant pillow of savory rice cooked with vegetables and chicken. Countless dishes served family style surround the maqluba – lentil soup, eggplant dip (moutabal), stuffed zucchinis (kousa mahshi), flavorful cooked tomato dip (galayet bandoura), stuffed grape leaves (yalangee), cauliflower fritters (mshat), tabouleh salad, and plenty of freshly baked bread. This is more than enough to satisfy an army, let alone a group of walkers. You dine on cushions, which line the perimeter of the family’s living room. Iman is beaming from ear to ear watching you enjoy her home-cooked meal. She asks eagerly which one was my favorite. I tell her I must have her recipe for mshat. We took to the balcony as the sun lowered in the sky, sipping on sweet tea and looking out onto the pomegranate, fig, and apricot trees that surround the house below. The next morning we awake to another feast – this time of various hand-made cheeses, olive oil and za’atar, humus, grilled taboon bread, thick savory yogurt (labneh), and pomegranate molasses. I am sad to leave Eisa and Iman and their children – especially 2-year old Tamar who was always up for hugs. I have brought a bottle of maple syrup from my home in New England as a gift for Iman and her kitchen. She bursts with excitement at the sweet taste. She has welcomed all of us strangers so warmly into her lovely home and I can’t even begin to repay her hospitality. But it makes me happy that in exchange for an unforgettable experience; she can have a little piece of my home with her. We are all nearly in tears as we say goodbye to one another. But as all goodbyes in the Middle East go, we say with a smile “See you again soon, inshah’Allah (God-willing).”