I am sure I have mentioned our Indian-American neighbour Karan who occupies the apartment above ours. I have been meaning for quite awhile to interview him about the NGO he started while an undergraduate student at the University of Washington. Tonight is our lucky chance!
We have been kicked out of our studio size apartment for a luxe sprawling one bedroom apartment complete with three...yes THREE....burners on our hotplate...that's right... a TV and a real shower! (not the kind you can pee on the toilet while being pummeled by the shower head) while they fix the leak in our washroom.
Anyways, back on track. Koran is over this evening making his 'famous' pasta sauce and entertaining us with his philosophical meanderings.
*D is Delilah
*J is Jack
*K is Karanvir (Koran for short)
D: So Mr Singh, describe to us how this all started? When did you visit Jayyous?
K: Visited 2003 and 2004, I was in the Middle East typically as a tourist, having a good vacation and it was friend Mark who went to Jayyous first. When we met in Seattle having travelled abroad we discussed how we noticed the different quality of lifestyle we were privilaged to in the West. It seemed some people struggled to buy day old bread while others lived luxeriuosly...it didn't seem right.
D: What happened next?
K: We had a long discussion. What could we do in the name of citizen diplomacy to make some difference or some small change. The village of Jayyous came up; it is located in the West Bank and there was proposition to have it blocked or walled up by the Israeli apartheid. In many ways this proposition directly affected the livelihoods of the villagers. The legal implications of the wall impeded the people of Jayyous to travel to sell their product and greatly reduced their standard of living.
J: What did the Israeli's expect them to do?
K: Israel wanted the peoples to begin to farm tomatoes instead, in that way they could maintain a monopoly on the produce by having strict control of the water sources. It effectively put the villagers in a strangle hold as they would have absolute control.
D: What made you want to get involved? Seems like a lot of work...
K: Obviously, it is the disparity of lifestyles. The multiple layers of depression. We are about the revolution, of making things accessible to the disadvantaged.
J: I just want you to clarify some of your sentiments towards Israel, especially as it is a very touchy political subject.
K: I want to make it clear there is no animosity to Israel. It is a powerful state and the other [the Palestinians] are a disenfranchised group who lack political and economic power compared to their neighbour. There is existing disparity and social immoblity. If the situation was reverse and there was a powerful Palestinian state oppressing a Jewish portion of society we would act in the same manner. Whether they are Jewish or Palestinian does not matter to us. It is the fact that there is oppression.
D: So tell us the first steps in getting Friends of Jayyous started.
K: Well, I was just graduating but Mark was still a student. Mark applied for the Mary Gates Scholarship which existed to promote idealist projects and progressive ideas in the social sciences.
D: How long did it take?
K: It was quite a lengthy process, there were interviews and they filtered ideas down. We were accepted and received a fund of around 5,000 US to start a fledgling project.
D: O.K what were the next steps after this?
K: At first it seemed daunting, we had no business experience, no experience creating web sites...nothing. We knew nothing about taxation or legal requirements. At times it seemed as though the project would not happen. But we prevailed.
J: Any extra difficulties dealing with Palestine specifically?
K: Well it really depended on this one guy we met Abdel Latife who really facilitated communication. We then used money from the fund to pay for initial bottling and Mark kind of had to pay a bit out of his student loan to pay for the label design.
D: Who designed the label?
K: It was a friend of Mark's from Palestine, a known local artist who I was introduced to when I went back to Israel and Palestinian territories.
D: What happened when you went back? What did you expect?
K: There was no expectation how we would be treated. It really was about social difference. We connected with the people on a level 'I see you, you see me...let's shake hands.' I feel we really bridged a gap, the mystery surrounding the 'other' had disappeared. These were no longer people on TV or in the paper. Palestinians were not so unlike us. We really wanted to promote a cultural bridge. It is like a carpet, we are all unique strands woven together to create a world community and together we create something beautiful.
J: What happens when you purchase the olive oil?
K: First of all it is 100% a non-profit endeavour. We only pay for shipping and the rest of the funds go directly to the community fund for the people of Jayyous to determine how it is used. We are as non-involved with the process as possible. When you purchase the oil you enable the kids to get clothes, school supplies, sufficient food.
J: Is it self-sustainable?
K: We have yet to find out if this is achievable. So not yet, it is an eventual goal, but the project is totally non-profit.
D: What is the most important thing derived from the experience?
K: Most important thing is that we would someone to look at we did on an individual level, not two experts, like anyone out there who wants to make the world better. If anyone is inclined do not think twice. Pick your cause. In the end, all you have done is try to be a better person and that is not too bad.
J: Was it worth it? Did you learn a lot?
K: It is not about Jayyous itself. It is about keeping the spirit, the mentality of concious buying alive. We learned that two students can start something like this and feel good about what they have done. It is about anti-typical consumerism, not your run of the mill capitalism. For me it is spirituality, human outreach and what it means to the dude who squeeze these olives...
CONTACT FRIENDS OF JAYYOUS VIA:
http://friendsofjayyous.com/default.aspx and email them for details while their new website gets set up!!!