DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you for that introduction, Megan [Doherty], and for your ongoing leadership of MEPPA, and USAID’s work across the Middle East and North Africa.
Thanks also to our Board members here with us today, and to everyone tuned in virtually, for your work to foster peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
The Partnership for Peace fund represents a bold and concrete commitment – the largest ever from a single country – to peacebuilding in the region. And while prospects for long-term peace seem to only grow more distant, this community is an important reminder that there is strong and broad-based support for bridging differences in spite of political challenges.
It serves as a signal to other donors – governments and philanthropists alike – that the United States is committed to the cause of peace. And that no matter the status of diplomatic efforts, through MEPPA, we are building momentum one relationship at a time.
But this partnership is more than a signal or a policy statement.
As Megan mentioned, you’ll hear about some of the progress we’re making to build acceptance and generate opportunity in communities that have never known peace; only fear of “the other,” which brings insecurity and violence.
I want to tell you about an 8-year-old boy named Ali, from Ramallah in the West Bank. He is an energetic and boisterous kid who was born with cerebral palsy. Ali dreams of being able to do the same things kids his age are able to do such as to move independently and swim in the sea.
Through our MEPPA program, Making Peace, Ali and his father, Mohammed, were connected with Israeli and Palestinian engineers and designers.
When Ali traveled to Tel Aviv to meet them, he didn't imagine that his day would end with swimming in the ocean using an adaptive surfboard they had built for children like him. It was Ali's first time in the open water. One dream came true.
Less than a month later, Ali and his father returned to Tel Aviv for another Making Peace activity, this time with a team of Palestinian and Israeli engineers, designers, para-medical professionals, and mentors who partnered to solve Ali's other challenge: to be more independently mobile.
In just two days, this dedicated team designed a model for a mechanical device that would eventually help Ali operate his wheelchair independently. Initially, Ali and his father were understandably hesitant and skeptical about whether a solution could be found. But they came with the hope that perhaps this program, tailored to address Ali’s specific needs, would help him.
During the process, trust between the Israeli and Palestinian developers, and Ali and his father, grew so much that despite the difficulty of getting from the West Bank to Tel Aviv especially for a disabled child, they agreed to come multiple times and dedicate themselves to helping Ali make progress. Not only was Ali able to improve his mobility, but the endeavor to help one child in need also strengthened relations between the team of developers who work together to improve the lives of the disabled and elderly.
This is the MEPPA model at work – a commitment to bringing people together around a shared interest, solving problems that hinder opportunity and human flourishing, and growing together.
All those who believe in peace know this is the key. These connections put a face and a name to what was once only thought of as “the other.” As peacebuilders and development professionals working in precarious situations, many of you I’m sure are often asked some version of the same question, “Does the news of violence in Jenin or protests in Tel Aviv make your work harder?”
And yes, there is much to make us cautious in our optimism.
There are those in the community and region who question the viability of this work – and others who see any engagement at all as betrayal. But there are many, many more who wholeheartedly embrace the challenges and absorb the chaos and violence of the present moment as motivation to continue building the foundation for peace.
MEPPA exists for those individuals, and we run no risk of running out of optimists ready to do the hard work.
Each success like Ali’s demonstrates that grassroots peacebuilding is the best way for local communities to demand peace and progress. We have to honor this willingness of peacebuilders to face danger, frustration, and scorn by doing our part to ensure that MEPPA is implemented in a wise and efficient manner.
That’s why I’m so grateful to friends, old and new, on the Partnership for Peace Fund Advisory Board, who have dedicated their time and talents to refining and overseeing MEPPA’s work. I am also so glad to have Scott Nathan here today to talk about how the DFC is tackling this important work. Thank you especially to our Chair George Salem, who has dedicated himself completely to this work.
Please know that this work is one of our Agency’s highest priorities and a matter of personal importance and interest for myself and Administrator Power.
Thank you all again for joining us, for lobbying to make this fund and this work possible, and for your vision and commitment to peace.