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.
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 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."
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.