Annual Earthstewards Gathering 2005

Harry Troelstra from the Netherlands, one of the key organizers for the PeaceTrees/Gathering in Bethlehem has been keeping a diary since his arrival in Bethlehem. Here are those entries on a daily basis.

Thank you, Harry, for bringing this event home to so many of us who dearly wish we could be there physically, but for many reasons are not able to attend. You know our hearts and prayers are with you all.

July 21st, 2005

Today is Thursday the 21st of July 2005. This is the day we also known started planting trees. I do feel we made history here (on a very limited scale, but never the less). I like to tell something about two aspects of this event, something about the chaos in which we try to accomplish something and something about the effect of what we did (yes the effect was visible even after one tree planting session).

The chaos or Murphy has found his land of dreams; a place were everything goes wrong at all times and in great synchronicity. The idea was to start with the actual tree planting at eight in the morning; eight o'clock being a kind of compromise between the need to work when it is still fairly cool and what was possible in terms of logistics. Mornings are a bit cooler here. But if we wanted to start when it was cooler, we're talking about getting up at five o'clock in the morning. But since we like to eat in the morning (which requires a cook). We also have to wait for the youngsters who arrive by bus as they give us a great helping hand. So eight o'clock is a doable time but not a really good compromise.

So the internationals got out of bed for breakfast at seven. But nothing was there: no cook and all the doors closed. And yeah it was early and people were eager, so frustration began to arise.

The truck from the municipality was supposed to be here at 7.30 hours to pick up the plants and tools to take them to the right place along the road in the village. But the truck didn't show up. We need the local police to ensure our safety in the middle of that road where we are planting trees. But when the police were contacted they said that they were not aware did not know about the project. They affirmed that they were willing to help but that they really need an official letter from the school with a request for assistance. And a phone call from the Municipality (where are you guys?) led to the suggestion to start planting of the trees at the city centre and not on the side of the school.

So at about 8.15 hours we changed our plans and got into action. We asked everyone to grab one tree and walk down the hill and then towards the city centre. And after they were on their way, we put some tools in the schools minibus and drove behind them. In the mini bus were Ibrahim, Menno a disabled boy from the school and me. We encountered the municipality truck half way down the hill and asked them to come after us. And we found our group sitting at the first supermarket: cheerful and full of energy.

We decided to start the cleaning and planting right there, in front of the shop. Plastic bags were handed out and the first fifty meters of the middle section of the road were cleaned in no time. So people started digging two rows of wholes as advised by the schools gardener and the environment specialist of the municipality. At the same time a small group found a place to put up a large banner with the name of the project. Lots of work was done with an incredible energy.

And amazing things happened. At first the shopkeepers and other bystanders just looked surprised. And I can imagine that this sight of a mixed group of foreigners and locals picking up garbage must have been strange. But by the time the plants were planted and our objective became visible, things changed. I will never forget how I saw a man get out of a taxi, and walk across the street to the shop. He looked around him and tried to understand what was going in there with all these people standing there in the middle of the street. When he got out of the shop again I could see the expression on his face changed. A broad smile appeared, there joy in his eyes. He came over and told he was happy we were there and that we were planting trees. Others that were sitting in front of their shops engaged in helping us (for instance by bringing water for the plants), workers from the municipality came and helped remove all the litter.

Just one thing more I like to say about our start. Remember I told the disabled young man drove with us on the minibus. He became my hero of the day when he walked to the middle of the street with his two crunches and planted a tree.

After the morning of planting most internationals went to Jerusalem to visit the group that rebuilds demolished houses. They had a difficult trip (bus, roadblock, bus, another bus etc.). But they found their way and had an interesting day. A few stayed behind and just had some time off. And in the evening we had the official Gathering- Opening Circle. That was difficult: people are tired, full of emotions.

Being here in this area in which violence, de-humanisation and tension are common is hard. There is logic in all that is happening. One minute we are looking at the series of settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem that enclose Bethlehem more and more. The next, another one of us wants to change money in a change shop and answers the questions that are always asked: what's your name and where are you from. But it becomes weird when after saying he is from Germany the shopkeeper says: Hitler did a great job!

Dealing with your own emotions is a difficult task. I am lucky I have my little computer and you My Dear Friend. You are willing to listen and you don't seem to be scared off by my tears when I tell you about my adventures here. Thank you for that!


PS: My dear editor and friend Saira, a volunteer at the school, wasn't able to do her work today. She lost her glasses. So forgive me sending you a letter in my own poor English today.

Miracle needed !

Dear Friend,

This time I am not sending you a report about my adventures over here. This time I need your help.

The Hope Flowers School is, as you know, a four-story building. And it stands on a hill. The playground is lower then the first floor. So are quite a few of the classrooms. I mentioned to you that we have one disabled participant in the group. But I know that among the school kids there will be more since it is the schools policy to integrated disabled children as well.

And although the first floor and playground area are made accessible for people in wheelchairs, the rest of the building is not. Everyone just has to use the stairs. That does not feel right.

I think it would be a great improvement if the school would have an elevator. A thought that of course has came up before. So it was easy to put a price tag on this, it is $40,000.

Now this is what I need your help for. What ideas do you have to get that sum of money for the Hope Flowers School? As you know I will greatly appreciate your ideas on this.


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