.... more with less Letting go in Palestine

"It was important for us to implement the project ourselves. It was not done by an NGO or by some company – it was done by us! A lot of work was done voluntary and nobody tried to make a profit. What was saved by choosing a good tender and by voluntary work, we could spent on more projects.”

A handful of villages in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) are experimenting with a different approach to protection and resilience for their communities. Supported by a national NGO (EJ YMCA), women, men and youth in the villages decide on what they see as the main challenges and threats - and then get direct control over cash grants to act on their own.

This is a story about how less outside control appear to prompt more and better results.

Following numerous open meetings and door-to-door consultations, volunteer protection groups generate ideas for what they could do to respond to key risks faced by their community. The simple procedures for applying for a community grant are explained and the groups draw up action plans for the interventions they choose to implement. Once priorities and actions are agreed, the volunteers get direct access to their own budget. This way of working makes it possible for the communities to get on with tackling their problems themselves - rather than waiting for others to do it.

We have never worked together like this. Before we just had our individual worries and concerns. Now we have developed an action plan, which we all have contributed to. And we’ve actually been able to address several of threats and concerns identified in the action plan. Developing the action plan and then taking joint action has been the key to our success. The cash grants made it possible to take the first important steps and then use that to bring in other voluntary contributions."

The protection groups work closely with local leaders such as the Village Councils. The groups are open for all and in most villages women have taken on a strong and often leading role in the groups.

The project succeeded because we worked together in the village. Many other NGO projects have failed – mostly because we were not really involved in the ideas and the plans. We did the electricity project cheaper, faster and better ourselves than any NGO could have done. But most important of all – we feel it is our own project – our own work. For instance, we only paid three individuals for some very specific skilled work – the majority work was done by community volunteers."

Through extensive consultations, communities analysed not only the problems they face but also their own capacities and opportunities. Most stem from living under Israeli occupation and include conflicts with nearby settlements, severe restriction of movement, confiscations of land and demolition of homes and other buildings. Erosion of livelihoods, worsening poverty, lack of electricity and water, polluted water streams, chronic underemployment as well as lack of services from the Palestinian Authorities also dominate the threats and challenges identified by the communities.

Unemployment and poverty linked to movement and access problems across the West Bank, ever expanding Israeli settlements dumping uncleared sewage water on Palestinian agricultural land and roads - these are some of the threats and challenges identified by the communities.

The village action plans along with direct access to small community grants has spurred a flurry of activities within the communities and towards local authorities. This led to rehabilitation of local mother and child care clinics, improvement for particularly girls in the village schools (trying to reduce girl school drop out rates), improving access to electricity and upgrading of poor and unsafe roads to and from schools or important agricultural land.

In all five villages the Palestinian Civil Defence Unit have trained local volunteers. Subsequently, the volunteers have put out several bushfires before they could spread to entire olive groves - or people's homes.

In Raboud village A cash grant of $ 5,000 was doubled by local contributions and resulted in $ 11,000 worth of activities.
VOlunteer in Mneizal village: "Because of the new road we can use and develop the land and the cisterns there. When we do that, we also protect our right to area. if this land remained unused, it would be at risk of being taken by the Israelis."
In Wadi Fukin a cash grant was used to install ellectricity to a neglected part of the village: " installing electricity make it much cheaper for the HOUSEHOLDS ALONG THE ROAD to get connected. the street lights also make the area safer - especially in winter".

Managing the cash grant has been a challenge - and empowering experience for the protection groups. Making sure that the entire village knows how the money is being spent is crucial for their credibility and success. One female volunteer in Wadi Fukin summed up their experiences: “The larger payment to the electricity company was the easy part of the work. Buying all of the bits and pieces for the project was much harder. We had to make sure, we got the best deals and that we only work with companies, which can issue proper receipts for our bookkeeping. All the documentation is checked by an independent accountability group. Then it's posted to our community Facebook group. This includes a picture of the check from EJ-YMCA ($ 5,000) given to a female member of our group along with pictures of all receipts, the goods purchased and subsequently pictures of how the project progressed. Like this everything is available for all in the community to see.”

We learned a lot about getting our community directly involved - including how to actually find and hire the right contractor and the things needed for the project. All receipts and contracts were put on facebook so all could see, how the money was spent. We also learned that we could actually do the project cheaper than an NGO could do it."

People in Abu Al Ghuzlan Village managed to add $ 3,000 worth of donations to a EJ YMCA cash grant of $ 5,000. This allowed the community to pave most of the road through the village.

But it's not just about money. More important may be that the process around the projects have promoted a sense of unity and purpose. Protection group volunteers in the five communities have for instance engaged local authorities in delivering on old - but never fulfilled - promises about providing electricity to an entire village, garbage collection in another and repairing a dangerous hole in a wall around the school in a third village. Meetings, demonstrations and clever use of local media have all brought pressure to bear on the relevant authorities in these cases.

If all NGOs worked the way this project works in support of the community and our protection group in their advocacy and talking to local authorities, a lot more could be achieved... as it is now happening with the electricity here in Mneizal."
The Mother and Child Care clinic in Abu Al Urqan was faced with closure as the building was deemed derelict. Mixing local mobilisation, cash grants, voluntary work and community donations such as tiles, the Protection Group ensured that the clinic can continue looking after mothers and kids in the village for years to come.
The settlement and the road reserved for the settlers have been build very close to us. Now we’re not allowed to farm our own land in some places. If we want to build anything, we receive stop or demolition orders from the Israelis. We need to improve the agricultural road to the land - otherwise we risk that it’ll be confiscated by the Israelis."

About the project

The projects in the five communities in the West Bank are part of an effort to test and develop ways to let crisis affected people take the lead in improving their own protection, survival and recovery. The communities are supported by staff from the Women Development Program of the Palestinian NGO EJ YMCA. EJ-YMCA in turn is supported by DanChurchAid, Church of Sweden and Christian Aid - all members of the ACT Alliance. Local2global Protection is involved as an advisor to both communities and the NGOs.

Thanks to the villagers and volunteers in Abu Al Ghuzlan, Abu Al Urqan, Mneizal, Raboud and Wadi Fukin who facilitated and hosted our repeated visits. This story was compiled by Local2Global based on conversations with a large number of community members as well as crucial insight and input from colleagues with EJ YMCA, DanChurchAid and Church of Sweden.


©nilscarstensen & L2GP 2017