Olives are an important part of Palestinian culture. When harvest time comes, many Palestinian communities come together to help with the work and to celebrate this fruit that carries so much meaning. Though physically separated, the YES alumni in the West Bank and in Gaza both share this tradition of participating in olive harvests.
In Gaza, three YES alumni met with about 30 other US Government scholarship alumni for the "Olive Harvesting Day" activity on October 27th. Mohammed Zaqout (YES 2010 - 2011, hosted by AYUSA in Leveen, AZ), Omar Alrabi (YES 2010 - 2011, hosted by AYUSA in Leveen, AZ), and Yahya Ashour (YES 2014 - 2015, hosted by YFU in Astoria, OH) joined the group to help local farmers in the central area of the Gaza Strip, especially the Alnussierat refugee camp, where many farmers struggle to afford temporary workers. By speaking with the head farmer, the alumni improved their understanding of challenges in the agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip.
This activity also allowed YES alumni to enhance their leadership and team-work skills by networking and collaborating with alumni from other programs. Alumni were grouped into three teams: one collecting olives from trees, another cleaning olives from leaves, and a third preparing cleaned olives in boxes for shipping to a mill. All of the volunteers then worked together to clean up fallen olive leaves.
At the end of the day, the alumni prepared a meal for lunch and ate together. The head farmer expressed his gratitude to the alumni, thanking them for their spirit of volunteerism.
In the West Bank, where the harvest season takes up most of October and November, 18 YES alumni came together for their own harvest activity on November 3rd.
The event took place in the village of Ein Kenya at the Juthour Arboretum, a natural reserve for native trees and plants species. The Arboretum (a volunteer-based organization) works through educational programs and eco-tourism to model and encourage greater individual and communal responsibility towards the threatened natural environment and heritage in Palestine.
The YES alumni's day started with a short hike up the mountain to the Arboretum for a discussion about endangered Palestinian plant species and the history of olive harvesting in Palestine. Then, they joined around 20 other volunteers for a full day of olive harvesting. The alumni distributed themselves into different groups, each stationed at a different tree, so they could get to know the international and local volunteers working alongside them.
Harvest day was extremely fun and the atmosphere of the event was both exciting and helpful. The olives that were harvested were sent to a mill the next day to be grounded into paste using large millstones in order to make olive oil the traditional way. The revenue from selling the olive oil will be used to help support the Arboretum and to preserve Palestine’s natural habitat.