Galilee Fellows Graduation Brings Optimism and Inspiration

It was a beautiful fall day in TAEQ’s Green Building in Sakhnin, where the Galilee Fellows gathered for one final concluding meeting where friends, distinguished guests and colleagues came to support them and celebrate their year-long fellowship. The event was honored by the presence of the Mayor of Sakhnin, Mazen Ganaim, additional municipality officials including the deputy mayor of the town of Jatt, and the Schocken Foundation representative which helps support the program.

The gathering began with a fascinating display of the Fellows’ final projects. Guests walked around and spoke to the Fellows’ about their experience in the program and their final projects.

“The program completely changed the way I am thinking about my job”, says Samir Shalabi, Director of Sanitation and Licensing at the Municipality of Jatt. “For the last 30 years I was worried about taking out trash and recycling but today, I look at my job in a completely different way. The program has given me a wider view of my role in this world”. Samir has plans to promote two big projects after his fellowship: renewing the polluted Hadera River and turning it into a community site which will connect the nearby towns; and building the Legacy Museum of Jatt, which will increase tourism, support the local economy, and foster pride in the community.

Gili Margalit and Najat Abu Salah are promoting environmental education and the preservation of strict nature reserves in the Galilee by working with the children learning in a bilingual school.

After the display it was time for speeches and concluding remarks. The facilitators of the program, Hanaadi Higris and Rohan Plaot, spoke about the seeds planted during the program. “We may not see the real impact of the program until fifty years from now, but the impact will be incredible and far-reaching,” said Rohan.

“We are proud of how you handled the different challenges thrown at you from different directions and created wonderful projects that have real impact,” said Hanadi.

Mazen Ganaim, Mayor of Sakhnin, spoke about how amazed he was when learning about the Fellows’ final projects: “I looked at the projects and saw mini-labs, experiments that can change the face of the Arab society. We need to bring these projects to a wider audience”, said Mayor Ganaim.

“53% of Arabs live today under the poverty line. But growing their own fruits and vegetables in small spaces inside or outside their houses can make a huge difference [in their quality of life],” he added.

The cohort representative, Aura Hammer spoke about their transformation as the year progressed: “We understood that together as a group, we have power to heal. And as a tribe, we have an even greater ability to make a difference, and even more so as a municipality, as a country and as mankind. We understood the power we hold as individuals and how it can make an unbelievable difference using the power of the group. “

Dr. Hussein Tarabeih, CEO of TAEQ, spoke about optimism. “There are many things we can be upset about – poverty, inequality, politics… but today I choose to be optimistic and look at the inspiring results of this program.”

“In many ways, its very existence is a miracle,” said Dr. Tarabeih.

Victor Weis, CEO of the Heschel Center spoke about the historic significance of the day: “Today we saw a beautiful demonstration of why we do what we do. We choose to invest in people who can be most effective in creating change in the world. Because that is how change happens – it begins with people,” Victor said and added, “Almost twenty years ago the two founders of the program Dr. Hussein Tarabeih and Dr. David Dunetz were together in the first cohort of the Heschel Fellows program. We always look back at the legendary first cohort in awe. The first cohort! One day, many years from now we will look at you, the first cohort of the Galilee Fellows program as the pioneers, those that dared to do something different.”