Ramallah in the USA—Since 1952
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 07.11.2011:
By Terry Ahwal Morris
TWIP November 2011
In 1952, several young students who lived in the United States wanted to unite the Ramallah community in the diaspora. Their aim was to have people in the United States stay in touch with each other so that they could retain their cultural identity. They established Hathihe Ramallah Magazine with correspondents in each community so that they can keep abreast of the latest news. Within months of launching the magazine, members of the community began organizing clubs in cities where a large number of Ramallites resided. As they organized the committees, they realized that in order for the committees to succeed they must put together bylaws that would guide the new entities. A decision was made to unite the community under one federation with local clubs in each major community.
On Sunday 7 September 1959, members of the community took the momentous decision to create a federation and adopted interim bylaws and a constitution. Today, there are 35,000 people from Ramallah living in the United States of America. They are concentrated in such major cities as San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Santa Rosa, and Los Angeles, CA; Jacksonville, FL; Houston, TX; Detroit, MI; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Knoxville, TN; Lexington, KY; Greensboro, NC; Birmingham, AL; Cleveland, OH; Little Rock, AR; Buffalo and Hempstead, NY; Milwaukee, WI; and South Plainfield, NJ. In all these cities, chapters were formed, making up the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine. The headquarters of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine was, and is still, located in Detroit, Michigan.
The founders of the federation resolved to create a non-profit entity with an elected executive committee. The purpose of the federation was to organize the Ramallah communities in the United States; to use its united resources and its position as a national organization to lead and guide the people of Ramallah; to raise funds for charitable purposes benefitting the people of Ramallah; and to establish better ties and understanding between the Ramallah communities in the United States and Ramallah.
Today, the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine is considered the largest Palestinian organization in the United States. It has celebrated fifty-four years of uninterrupted services. Its bimonthly magazine, Hathihe Ramallah, continues to be an important source of information for the diaspora. Aside from the magazine, the AFRP has established cultural, charitable, and social programs to support people from Ramallah, whether they live in Ramallah or in the United States. Among the programs the AFRP has adopted and fostered is the Ramallah Hospital. During their first convention, they approved the construction of a hospital, allocated $65,000, and vowed to continuously raise money to ensure its success. In addition to the hospital, the AFRP developed a scholarship fund to benefit students from both in Ramallah and the diaspora. Today the federation gives sixty scholarships a year to students who are attending colleges and universities. Half the students selected for the scholarships are currently residing in Ramallah.
The growth of the federation and its programs is a testament to the commitment of volunteers who give their time, talent and treasure to ensure the prosperity of the federation. Each president and the board of directors make every effort to add or improve the programs adopted by the federation. It works with local clubs, which have become the backbone of the federation, creating a variety of programs, such as Arabic classes, Dabke training, and youth and women programs.
Over the years, the AFRP has implemented many programs that highlight Palestinian culture, including sponsoring the Sareyyet Ramallah Troupe for Music and Dance and the Edward Said Conservatory group as they toured the United States. Working with the federation, local clubs have become the hub for all kinds of activities for the people of Ramallah. For example, the Detroit club hosts an event every Thursday where men and women come together to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. In addition, the community gathers at their local clubs to raise money for the relief fund or work on civic service programs. In large communities, local clubs organize a major event to celebrate the election of board members and to raise money for variety of programs. Further, the community established a relief fund to support non-profit organizations in Ramallah, such as the Nahda, Mar Mansour, and many other Palestinian and non-Palestinian organizations.
The crowning jewel of the AFRP activities is the yearly convention, which is held in July of each year. The Federation developed the yearly convention to bring our community together from all around the United States. More than 2,000 people gather at this wonderful yearly reunion where families get reacquainted with their friends and neighbours from Ramallah. The four-day festivities ignite the spirit of Palestine in the minds and hearts of people attending the event.
Aside from all the cultural, political and educational activities held during the convention, the AFRP sets its future agenda. It elects a new cabinet and president, evaluates its past accomplishments and builds a strategic framework for future success.
Despite the challenges it faces of working with a scattered community, the AFRP has developed many programs that impact the lives of people from Ramallah. In 1997, it established Project Hope for young adults who want to travel to Palestine to volunteer their time in Ramallah and learn about their heritage. This year, it launched the Medical Mission Program along with Project Hope. The mission of this program is to send health care providers to Palestine to volunteer their time in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Our engagement in the community extends beyond our clubs and the federation. Our members are encouraged to participate in civic and community programs in their communities. The American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine works to ensure that the voice of the people of Ramallah is a prominent voice in the American society. We work with various Palestinian, Arabic, and non-Arabic organizations to support them in their missions. Our youth regularly volunteer with churches and charitable organizations. Many of our highly educated members of the Federation serve as leaders in their professional institutions.
The AFRP presents a myriad of ways to engage in Palestinian life and celebrations in family-friendly way. From holiday festivals to community-wide celebrations, it is constantly exploring ways to introduce children from Ramallah to Palestinian traditions and customs. It has picnics and holiday events where children come together to meet and share their common heritage.
Realizing that the future is as important as the present and the past, the federation developed a strategic plan to ensure its future success. During its last convention in July, the federation adopted plans that will ensure the success of the AFRP, including leadership training for young and upcoming leaders, fiscal stability to ensure permanency for the federation and cultural and civic service programs. The members of the AFRP believe that the best is yet to come. It continues to strive to achieve national prominence and be the bridge between its members’ native homeland and their current home. Its success and strength are embedded in its belief that its service is essential to bringing the plight of the Palestinians to the forefront of American society and to ensure that Rammallites remain a family connected for life.