In 2000, a Palestinian-American biologist went back to her homeland for the first time in 18 years and was disturbed to see how few spaces there were for children to play. She loved taking her four-year-old daughter out to playgrounds in Philadelphia and watching how she got along with other kids. She wanted Palestinian children to have what her daughter had. She knew there was a Right to Play.
In that simple impulse, the biologist started an organization with a simple name, Playgrounds for Palestine, and started raising money.
No one’s life unfolds the way they expect. Susie Abulhawa had no idea she would become a novelist and outspoken advocate for Palestine. No idea she’d one day be debating Alan Dershowitz into the ground and getting deported from Israel twice and barred from speaking at a Palestinian literary festival… She was a single mom living paycheck to paycheck, and her organization began out of an instinctual understanding, not a political mission.
Today that organization is still with us. “I’ve long refocused my energies in different avenues,” Abulhawa told me. “But I love this project.”
And this spring Playgrounds for Palestine is launching a line of Palestinian olive oils for distribution in the United States, to build more playgrounds for Palestinian children, and support other child-centered projects.
PfP has built 39 playgrounds in Palestine and refugee camps. Many of the kids who use them have never seen such state-of-the art, colorful, durable and creative play systems.
The organization counts on locals to acquire the land, but then it brings in equipment and hires local workers at a cost of about $15,000-20,000 per playground. Some of its undertakings are very difficult indeed: Israel doesn’t make it easy for the equipment to come in through its port, and there are two playgrounds in Hebron, where settlers have shot at those trying to build playgrounds. And Playgrounds for Palestine is planning one more for the city.
“Our mission is to help Palestinians,” says Hanan Urick, co-chair of the organization along with Abulhawa. And Palestinians won’t travel to another village to get to a playground, because travel in the occupied territories is hard enough as it is.
PfP has three playgrounds in Gaza. And two of its playgrounds are skateboard parks for older children. It is seeking to extend its reach to Jordan. And two of its playgrounds are in Syria, whose condition is not known today.
You can help build playgrounds by buying Playground for Palestine olive oil. “Playgrounds for Palestine is launching AIDA, a private label olive oil as a way to continue to support our work for Palestinian children,” Abulhawa told me.
PfP had previously marketed oil from Canaan, the leading seller of Palestinian olive oils in the U.S. But they wanted their own oil; and the all-volunteer staff of PfP spent three years getting their own organic fair trade extra virgin sources. The result is two blends, with a label that borrows an image from the Institute for Palestine Studies. The Turath blend is from a cooperative called Al Reef, and the Premium blend is from Al Ard, both in the Nablus and Ramallah areas.
So you’re supporting olive farmers too. This year was a tough year for farmers not only because of increased settler attacks, Abulhawa says, but the “olive fly” pest was particularly bad this year and it destroyed a lot of crops.
PfP has 3000 bottles of the oil, and 1500 tins. Going fast!