Archive for category Pushpa Iyer

West Bank and Israel – OMG!

This was my first trip to Israel and the West Bank – well, in fact to the Middle East if I do not count my two-day trip in the late ’90s to Jordan! I had never imagined that I would enjoy the trip so much or that I would love the places I visited as much as I did, although I tore my hair with frustration with every sight and sound of the conflict that splits the people of this land.

Jerusalem  and Bethlehem – so much history in one place! It was overwhelming to find myself standing in such historically significant places – what a privilege! Ally and Lukas were keen as one-week-old- hosts (although they have both been to the region before)  to shown every place in these two cities that were important to anyone visiting.


At the Temple Mount, Jerusalem with Peacebuilder Fellows Ally and Lukas and CCS alum, Kirill.

At the Temple Mount, Jerusalem with Peacebuilder Fellows Ally and Lukas and CCS alum, Kirill.

We also went to Ramallah and Hebron. We planned to meet a colleague in an international NGO in Ramallah but Hebron happened simply by chance. We ran into a staff member of a Palestinian local organization and accepted his invitation to travel to Hebron.

At the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

At the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.


Traveling to Palestinian controlled areas of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron was such an experience. We saw with our own eyes every little indication of the conflict (and this included water conflicts), the incredible amount of violence that at this time definitely seemed one sided and against the Palestinians and we witnessed and experienced the indignities of passing through check points every time we returned to Jerusalem from the Palestinian controlled areas. And of course the separation wall was central to our separate experiences of Israel and Palestine.

Old city, Jerusalem

Old city, Jerusalem

So beautiful a region, such warm people… yet so harsh, so violent and so ghettoized.  I kept wondering – why?  Why is the human race so stupid? Why is the human race so cruel? Why is the human race so violent? Why is the human race so unforgiving? Why is the human race so determined to commit the same crimes of the past?

The last question hit me in the head, as a hammer would hit a nail when I toured the holocaust museum – Yad Vashem – Israel’s Memorial for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Why when the past shows how cruel, wrong, and despicable humans have been, are some of us so determined to continue the tradition today?

I have so many thoughts. So many feelings. I have emotions to sort through. I have so much more to write….but not I until I process my thoughts more.

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Water, Water, Water

It is so incredibly hot in Ahmedabad city (Gujarat state, India)! When temperatures hover between 42 and 45 degrees celsius, the brain simply does not function much. The primary thought when the head, the heart and indeed the soul meet, is the need for water. Water is literally the source of life at the moment – all you want is to keep drinking water. Food is secondary. Not drinking water for even an hour has immediate implications on health – headaches, dryness setting in mouth, lethargy from dehydration and in general an inability to move hands and legs to do something productive.

That is me. I need water all the time and I have it. I do not step out of the house (I almost always step out only in the evenings )  for even 10 minutes without a bottle of water.

And then there are the people I see the rare times I step out during the day. Working on construction sites in the hot sun, sweeping streets, pulling carts, generally doing all kinds of manual labour with family in tow. Yes, they bring their children along because where else would they leave them? In their homes which are on the footpaths (sidewalks)?

Young boys carrying sodas up almost 500 steps up a temple visited by tourists in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. It is the middle of the day.

Young boys carrying sodas up almost 500 steps to a temple visited by tourists in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. It was the middle of the day when this picture was taken.

I will not forget the little boy of not more than nine who asked me for my bottle of water as I was walking down the street at 11 pm after a fun night out. Mind you he began by asking me for money and when I said I wouldn’t he asked for my bottle of water. I, with a tiny bit of reluctance, gave away my precious almost full bottle of water. How do you refuse someone who asks for water? I knew he was probably thirsty and needed water but my head convinced me that he wanted to sell the plastic scrap and make money. Well, okay! It was still better than giving money. When I turned a second later, he was gulping down the water and I watched as he downed the entire bottle (a large bottled mineral water) in one shot.

Tears in my eyes, I walked back to take him and buy him some food and more water but he disappeared quickly into the crowd. The contrast between my life  and those like me and him and those like him is stark but when it comes to water – access to water – the chasm is so deep and wide that all you can do is stand at the edge – with binoculars if need be – to know what is happening at the other end. Just seeing and knowing will in itself will be the beginning of the heart and mind seeking ways to not just have “them” cross the chasm and reach us but to bridge the chasm so we can meet halfway. For water, an increasingly scarce commodity, is something we must share – those of us that have access to it and control it with those who don’t.

Through this Fellowship, our fellows in Burma, West Bank, Ethiopia and Mexico will bring us those heart breaking stories of people struggling to meet their water needs. Bring those binoculars out so you can see at close quarters all that we are trying to show you.

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2014 Peacebuilders Fellowship

By Pushpa Iyer

I am excited to launch the 2014 Peacebuilders Fellowship program; a program which will present water stories from four countries – Burma, Ethiopia, Mexico and West Bank.


Children doing dishes in a street in Freetown, Sierra Leone

I have great hopes from our first batch of passionate and committed Peacebuilder Fellows.  They come from varied backgrounds and with wide ranging experiences in various parts of the world. You can read their bios here.

The goal of this Fellowship, “Giving a voice to the voiceless and a face to the faceless”, comes from my own personal commitment to bringing change and building peace – change and peace as defined by those who are in midst of conflict.

The Center’s slogan – Knowledge as Action; Action as Change – defines my personal, academic and professional approach to bringing change and building peace: As we become more informed, action becomes inevitable.

This is what I hope as outcome of  this project – hearing the stories of individuals experiencing water conflicts will make us act!

The stories we gather from the field will be told on our website in August 2014. Here, on this site, we present the stories of the storytellers, that is, of our Peacebuilder Fellows. Reflections of the storytellers should make some compelling reading. Please do follow our Fellows on their journey and do cheer them regularly through your comments. Thank you.


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