College of Idaho senior and Palestine native Ahmed Arafat grew up in Jerusalem, later moving with his family to the city of Nablus in the West Bank, a landlocked territory which Israel took control of in 1967. Living amid heavy tensions between occupying Israeli settlers and the comparatively larger Palestinian population, he saw firsthand the effects Israeli policies had on the smaller farming villages within Area C of the West Bank—particularly in regards to water rights.
“Area C faces water shortage,” Arafat said. “Israel determines how much water villages can consume, and if they reach more than what is allotted to them, they have to buy ‘trucked water.’ That’s way more expensive and farmers usually just can’t afford it.”
This summer, Arafat will return to Palestine with a solution that will bring much needed water to Area C. Arafat was selected by the Davis Foundation as a recipient of a $10,000 Davis Project for Peace Award, which he will use to design and construct a piping system and filtrated well for the Palestinian farming village of Kafa, located about 15 miles from his hometown.
“I know people there who have helped me get in touch with the community to help me understand what’s happening,” Arafat said. “I’ve done field work to understand their standards of living, and these people really need access to water for their livelihoods.”
Arafat’s project, “Access to Water: A Matter of Health, Education and Justice,” seeks to use Kafa’s existing resources to build an enhanced infrastructure that will allow the village to receive water consistently without using expensive alternative sources. Using the architecture of the village’s greenhouse roofs, which are designed to accumulate water, Arafat and his team of engineers and volunteers will construct a piping system that connects each roof and deposits the water into a 350 square-meter well.
Once complete, the filtrated well will be able to store up to 300,000 liters of water, which can be pumped throughout the village as needed using solar power. The local source of fresh water will be a natural and less expensive option for Kafa’s water needs, benefiting the village’s agricultural needs as well as providing water for Kafa’s elementary school, which serves more than 300 children.
Arafat said the new well will provide a sustainable model to villages facing similar water issues in the West Bank while improving the general prosperity of Kafa. The well also will allow Kafa to meet the World Health Organization’s standards for 100 liters of water per capita, help local farmers to keep their farmlands and livestock instead of having to sell them off due to crippling water costs, and prevent students from being sent to schools closer to cities with consistent water access—a sometimes dangerous proposition that leads to students dropping out and other social problems.
Arafat’s project is the 11th Davis Project for Peace developed by C of I students to receive funding in the last decade. Since 2007, C of I students have received $110,000 to produce humanitarian projects all over the world, including India, Brazil, Afghanistan, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Malawi, Tanzania and Egypt.
“Ahmed is both politically aware and socially engaged,” said C of I political economy Professor Robert Dayley, one of Arafat’s advisors. “He is one of the doers in this world. It is clear he has a vision and a doable plan of action to see it through. I’m personally confident that he will maximize the opportunity and make a great difference for those his project will affect in the Kafa village.”
Arafat is eager to raise additional funds to supplement his Davis Grant. He plans to continue fundraising until he leaves for West Bank this summer in an effort to provide improvements to Kafa’s school, adding water fountains and remodeled bathrooms for its students.
“I feel very honored to actually try and change the way people perceive conflicts in Palestine and the Middle East,” Arafat said. “My point is not to change the nature of the conflict, but rather the way people perceive the conflict, and that is very important, I think, towards achieving peace.”
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