To my family, friends, supporters and friendly strangers;

Nearly two years ago I was standing outside of K-Mart on Astor Place in New York City. I was talking to my mother on the phone about how I could bring together my passion of service to others and skills of leadership development. After that conversation, I thought I had it all figured out. I made the plan to develop the Palestine Youth Leadership Initiative. With the initiative, I had intended to move to the Gaza Strip for two years and develop student councils up and down the Strip. Bureaucratic limitations soon dawned on me and I was taught the importance of seeking market feedback and being flexible with your plan. Two years, tears, multiple failed fundraising pitches, prayers, and countless meetings,  LEAD Palestine has grown into the program that it is today-- a week long summer leadership camp in New Askar refugee camp in the occupied West Bank for at-risk youth aged between 12 and 15 years-old.

As I have developed LEAD Palestine, I have grown in immense ways. My patience has been strained and my drive to carry out this program tested. However, by the will of God and the blessings set by him and only him, I am humbled and excited to finally get to implement this program in less than 3 weeks.

I have been in Palestine for the past month and have had a chance to spend a lot of time with the residents of New Askar. They are a beautiful people filled with love and generosity. A few weeks ago we were hanging out in New Askar and met a man named Mohamed (he is one of many). Mohamed quickly invited us into his home for some juice. His house was humble, the entry more of a gate than a proper door. As we took the short walk from the entryway to his bedroom, I noticed only about half of his house was covered by a functional roof. The rest was covered by tarp and aluminum. His bedroom floor revealed the original foundation on which concrete was laid when his house was built-- no tile or carpet. His room could barely fit a twin bed, desk and a dresser. Yet everything was in pristine condition. His bed was perfectly made without a single crease. His desk was so clean and organized you couldn’t imagine it would ever be messy. Everything about his room was kept in such a condition that you knew instantly that Mohamed valued his property in a way many of us can’t even fathom.

While society will tell us that I am wealthier than Mohamed, I can tell you that this man has achieved a level of contentment and internal beauty that I can only admire and strive towards. I pray that God gives Mohamed blessings in this world and the next and make any suffering that he experiences in this world as the means by which he attains total bliss in the next life.

It is a great blessing to be able to follow my dreams. I feel as if my heart and hands are aligned every day I get to work on LEAD Palestine.  I often lose track of the fact that many people cannot simply take off an entire summer from work to volunteer on a project. It is a privilege to serve and I pray that I maintain only good intentions and keep God at the center of all my work. I hope that God continues to bless the residents of New Askar and grant them ease in this world and in the next.

I feel as if my heart and hands are aligned every day I get to work on LEAD Palestine.

Thank you so much for all those who have supported our work so far. I invite you to subscribe to our blog as we share our reflections from the program. Your prayers, donations, good vibes and thoughts mean the world to our team.

-RJ

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