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Instead of a seaside resort and sunbeds by the pool, caring duo Elaine Stapleton and Lisa Dundas head for the warzone of Palestine for two and a half weeks each year to provide support for families and communities in need.
But any praise for their efforts is shunned in favour of admiration for those they help to achieve.
“If I am proud of anything I can say, hand on heart, that it is pride for the people we have supported and what they have done,” says Elaine.
“To see businesses flourishing, to see kids able to walk to school, or to see families being fed because of things we have had a hand in. That makes me happy. It’s about them – not us!”
It is just over five years since Elaine, 59, from Mossley Hill, and friend Lisa, 51, began Working with Villages in Palestine after being introduced to the country through a friend.
Elaine, who also works part-time in adult learning services, was asked to go over to do photography, while Lisa was asked to do reiki and massage.
“We went over there and fell in love with the place – and learned all about the hardships people endure on a daily basis,” says Elaine. “We stayed local families and it was soul-destroying to see the lack of food and the conditions people lived in.”
On their second visit, Elaine and Lisa returned with £12,000, having raised money back home, to buy goats and sheep so families could have fresh milk and make cheese; and olive trees to help them keep their land and benefit from its fruit.
They delivered – and still deliver – food parcels with basics for families like flour, sugar and yeast, and then they began to pay for medical bills, a bus to take Bedouin children to school and back and planted sage, thyme and acacia trees.
And then they did more.
“Five years on it’s going stronger than ever,” says Elaine. Last year they raised more than £22,000 to help hundreds with things like a sewing machine to ‘that’ pastry oven and five hearing aids for a deaf/mute family they knew.
“We have now got a lot of people on the ground over there who help us to do what we do, Palestinians who work on our projects for us and who know what communities need. We know we can trust them – and they know they can trust us so if a project is started it’s followed through.”
There have been many successes for Working with Villages in Palestine. In the last couple of years alone:
-They have supported six single women by having made, and buying, an oven from which they make and sell pastries to students from a lock-up near a university.
“When they first came to us we wondered whether it was going to work but the women had worked through their idea, so we went to ‘the man in the cubby hole’ and got him to make us an oven and now they are doing really well and money they make is feeding their families.”
-They bought Ali and his mum a sheep to provide milk and make cheese. Ali is disabled, as is his father who therefore can’t work. A year later Ali and his mum bought themselves a second sheep. They get milk and make cheese for the local community and last year went to Elaine and Lisa saying they wanted to open a little shop selling their own produce and other items like cakes. “We gave then money for their first lot of stock, and it’s going well,” says Elaine. “It’s like the old-fashioned corner shop.
“If they can’t support themselves people struggle. There’s one man who know who is disabled and is provided with only £43 for three months off the government. He sells coffee on the street corner which means he can just about afford to feed himself.”
Elaine, Lisa and now others in WwViP travel the length of the West Bank: “The more people hear about us and trust us, the more they come to us with an idea asking for help. News travels to the next village and the next.
“These people have got ideas and a strong work ethic, they just need help to get things off the ground and then they’re away…
“A domestic irrigation system costs £100 for plants and six months of water which turns scrubland into agricultural land that can be used to provide food and a living.
“We are currently applying for charity status so larger companies may offer bigger donations and we can provide more. But we will stay at grass roots level in what we do so we can meet the people, learn what they need and, hopefully, give it.”
It’s not without its risks and heartache. Elaine and Lisa have witnessed horrendous sights and been shot at themselves. After their last visit they had difficulty getting back into normal life back home.
“It’s hard after you’ve seen such poverty and faced dangerous situations,” admits Elaine, “we were all suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“But it doesn’t mean we stop going, it just means we perhaps see counsellors in future and learn how we can de-brief properly and survive without emotional scars. But it’s distressing. We’ve met children who need to be chaperoned on their way to school by peacekeeping forces, to protect them. Their stories of being attacked still haunt us.
“We have provided escorts so children can go to school in safety.
“That’s what we can do.
“Every penny we raise counts – and £10 will buy a tree, if anyone wants to help.
“We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things. But a little support has a massive effect on people’s lives.”
By Jan Tansley, Copy Media
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