Philanthropic Organization ‘On The Ground’ for the ‘Run Across Palestine’ Project
Lead singer of the Lansing, MI roots-rock quartet Steppin’ In It, Joshua Davis, has been invited to participate in the latest On The Ground* project (in partnership with The Palestinian Fair Trade Association), ‘Run Across Palestine.’ Funds raised from RAP—targeted at $100,000—will have several immediate impacts, including the purchasing/planting of thousands of olive trees and providing scholarships for the children of Palestinian olive farmers. This project is designed to reestablish sustainable olive growing practices in a place where history, economy, culture, and identity are rooted in the ancient olive tree.
The Run Across Palestine—set to take place in February—will span the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories, from Hebron to Jenin. Participants will run from one olive-growing community to another, sleeping on farms at night, while utilizing established relationships with the Palestinian Fair Trade Association and other organizations involved with the immediate survival of farm communities.
Davis will be traveling with a media team—comprised of a filmmaker, a journalist and a photojournalist—whose purpose is to document the journey. While the team transmit daily multimedia reports and archive the experience, Joshua will be doing some documentation all his own. For the duration of his time with the RAP crew, Josh will be blogging about the adventure and compiling a travel journal. Upon his return stateside, Davis plans to record an album based on his experiences throughout the trip. “The goal here is to come back with a truly authentic experience. I want the album to be an honest representation of my experiences there. I’m excited to create something so fully focused on one short trip, and I don’t doubt there will be plenty of inspiration.”
When asked about his role, Josh explained, “I will be supporting the runners, but also engaging with the communities where the runners will stay at night. I’ll be meeting other musicians, artists and community leaders. I’m looking forward to playing at concerts and celebrations, while sharing and exchanging music and experiences with Palestinian artists. We will also be visiting schools and a very exciting community called Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam, which is a bi-national cooperative village of Arabs and Jews. I’ll be staying on farms and in villages, learning all I can about Palestinian life and culture. And, possibly giving foot rubs to the runners!”
The Middle East, and particularly the region in which the project will take place, is certainly rife with contention. Yet, forhis part, Davis is taking the opportunity to experience the culture firsthand as an educational and informational one. “My personal feelings about the situation in Israel and Palestine are mixed. It’s confusing for me, and I hope that this process will allow me to sort through those feelings and find a steady place. There’s so much biased information coming at us from all sides of this conflict. I’m looking forward to breaking through the headlines a forging real relationships with people on both sides of the Green Line.” Josh believes that when working with international service projects, especially in dangerous terrains, it is important to trust the organizers and have faith. “I think that traveling to and within the West Bank will have its challenges, but the Palestinian organizations we are partnering with are organized and motivated. I trust that things will go smoothly.”
Preparation is a key component in readying oneself for such an expedition. With regard to this process, Davis says, “I’ve been educating myself about the people, the land, olive trees and fair-trade farming. About the conflict as well, of course. Reading, watching documentaries, listening to music, keeping up on current events in the region and journaling have me feeling prepared. I’ve been having lots of tough, yet productive discussions with family and friends. The runners have quite a task ahead of them; it’s mountainous terrain, but they’ve been training hard.”
In January of 2011, OTG completed the ‘Run Across Ethiopia’ Project. Ten American and six Ethiopian runners ran 400 kilometers (over 250 miles) across Southern Ethiopia as part of a campaign to generate awareness and funding for education. RAE was a huge success, raising over $200,000 to construct schools, fund a school nutritional program, provide job training, experience and wages for ten street teens as part of the Gorumsa Project, and support the work of the Tesfa Foundation and the Oromia Cooperative Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU), a union of 129 fair-trade coffee cooperatives that, together, represent some 800,000 families.
For that expedition, OTG Co-Founder Chris Treter—owner of Higher Grounds Trading Company: Coffee Bar and Roastery in Traverse City, MI—enlisted the support of Seth Bernard and May Erlewine Bernard (popular Michigan folk artists, who also perform as the duo Seth & May). According to Davis, who has collaborated with the performers countless times over the years, “Seth and May have been involved with Chris in supporting fair-trade farming communities for quite a while. I’ve learned so much through their involvement. Naturally, when Chris called and asked if I would be interested in the Run Across Palestine…I said yes.”
The RAP Project will use the same model that On The Ground developed for Run Across Ethiopia. A team of endurance runners has been selected, and the dedicated athletes have each been tasked with raising part of the $100,000 target goal. In the words of OTG, “The setting for the run is the birthplace and confluence of many of the world’s religions. Many people only know this geographical area of the world as an ongoing media sidebar to the decades of struggle for peace in the Middle East. The run seeks to transcend the daily news stories and address the visible and hidden impacts from the loss of traditional farmlands for the individual farmers and their families.”
A majority of funds from the project will be utilized to supply olive trees to area farmers through the ‘Trees For Life’ Project, which is solely funded by grassroots movements abroad and singularly invested in by the Palestinian fair-trade movement. This project helps offset the enormous destruction of olive trees by the Israeli occupation army in Palestine. The remainder of the funds raised will be invested in leadership programs benefitting farming communities. Scholarships will be awarded through the Canaan Scholarship Fund to assist farmer’s children afford tuition to study at local Palestinian universities, and recipients commit to volunteer in community service programs during the summers they receive aid.
Davis’ impact on the RAP project may, in fact, become most apparent in the weeks and months following the completion of the run. He has committed himself to create a collection of songs with the earnest desire to represent the energy, intense emotions and overall sense of community felt throughout the experience. “I hope that the album I make when I return will serve to educate people about fair-trade farming and Palestinian culture. I’ll have a unique perspective as a US songwriter and someone involved in this project, and I’m excited to relate my experiences there to folks back home. This project has already created so much important dialogue. The situation there is difficult to understand and emotions run so high on both sides. I hope the album can serve as a discussion starter. Communication: that’s the way to peace, I think.”
Help Joshua Davis get to Palestine by pledging to his Kickstarter Campaign. Financial backers are offered a wide array of rewards for their support, including handwritten postcards, autographed CD’s, music lessons and even a house concert! The fundraising efforts end Thursday, January 19…so don’t delay!
*On The Ground’s purpose is to support sustainable community development in farming regions across the world. They accomplish this mission by partnering with other philanthropic agencies, donors and communities to provide opportunities for indigenous communities around the globe to build lasting infrastructure. In concert with sustainable trading practices by OTG partners, this infrastructure makes it possible for these communities to create real and meaningful prosperity for all their citizens.