by Venice Buhain
Originally publsihed in The Olympian
OLYMPIA — For a few hours Sunday, the Olympia Eagles Ballroom was filled with friendly chatter, the enticing smells of Mediterranean food and the delicate handiwork of Palestinian embroidery.
But the main event at the fundraiser for the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project was a presentation by two volunteers from the organization that aims to continue the connection between Olympia and the city where activist Rachel Corrie died.
Corrie, who lived in Olympia, died in 2003 after being run over by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli military as she protested the demolition of a home.
The Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project was formed shortly after Corrie’s death, said her friend and volunteer Rochelle Gause. Gause is one of three “delegates” who recently returned from Rafah as part of the sister city project.
Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, also have traveled on behalf of the project.
Gause said Corrie had sent e-mails about possibly starting a sister city program with Rafah.
“It was one of her visions,” Gause said. “We’ve tried to carry that vision and develop it.”
The Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project, which became a recognized nonprofit organization last year, established a women’s center and a cultural center in Rafah, collects medical equipment, and has hosted educational presentations stateside about the volunteers’ experiences in Palestinian areas.
Gause and Serena Becker gave their first presentation after returning several weeks ago from an eventful trip around Gaza and the West Bank. The presentation covers the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current conditions of life in the Palestinian areas.
Gause and Becker nearly were kidnapped in January, just before the
Palestinian elections, but their Palestinian friends interceded on their behalf, Becker said. Gause and Becker plan to take their slide show lecture on a tour.
The group sends several delegates for months at a time to live in Rafah, and its members hope to bring residents to visit Olympia.
The project already has started one of Corrie’s goals — to bring handcrafted scarves, vests, bracelets, pillows, purses and other goods from Rafah and to pay the artisans a fair wage, said event organizer Rana Shmait.
“It’s a fair livable wage, to the mutual benefit of the people in Rafah and Olympia,” she said.
Locally, the crafts are sold at Traditions Cafe, a store dedicated to fair trade. Having delegates in Rafah is one of the few ways for the goods to reach Olympia, Gause said.
Before her death, Corrie, who was well-known in the local peace activist community, had spoken to Traditions Cafe about selling Palestinian handicrafts there, said cafe manager Jody Tiller. The nonprofit group doesn’t make a lot of money off of the goods, she said.
“They want as much as possible to go toward the women as they can get,” Tiller said.
Though many of the people at Sunday’s fundraiser knew Corrie or were familiar with the group, some were happy to have the chance to learn about the group and its mission.
“I wanted to support the project, and I wanted to learn more about it,”
said Karen Nelson, owner of the Fertile Ground Guest House, which has donated rooms for guest speakers sponsored by the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.
“I’m glad that there’s such a turnout, and that people in Olympia are becoming aware of what is happening in other areas.”