30 Years and Change: MECA Leadership Transition

From Barbara Lubin, Founder and Director Emeritus

MECA marked the our 30th Anniversary with a big event in June and some big changes in leadership. I am stepping back from the day-to-day work of managing the organization and my colleague and dear friend Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch is MECA’s new Executive Director. Children throughout the Middle East are still suffering a great deal but when I look back over the last three decades we have lot to be proud of. MECA has changed countless young lives for the better.

Since our founding we have delivered more than $25 million worth of food, medicine, and other vital aid. We have supported medical clinics, community centers, early childhood development centers, and playgrounds. We’ve built water purification and desalination systems in schools in refugee camps in Gaza, provided college scholarships, and we have launched a new project called Gaza Lights bringing electricity to families in their homes. During the Gulf War we broke the illegal U.S. sanctions and delivered medical supplies to Iraqi children. We have supplied aid to children in the refugee camps of Lebanon, first Palestinian and now Syrian. This has only been possible because of the generous support of each of you.

Zeiad has been an integral part of MECA since the very beginning. I met him on my first trip to Palestine in 1988 when he was working as a journalist, amplifying the voices of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian, Israeli, and international press. At the same time, he was organizing youth in Dheisheh Refugee Camp (Bethlehem) where he grew up—educating them about their traditional culture, history, and rights and giving them opportunities to express themselves through dance, music, sports, and other activities that they had been deprived of. In 1994, Zeiad founded the Ibdaa dance troupe in Dheisheh. Together, he and I brought the young dancers to the U.S. for three national tours where they told their stories and raised funds for their community. Later Zeiad founded sports teams, including the first girls’ team in a Palestinian refugee camp. In everything Zeiad took on he pushed young people to their potential, pushed for social change, and nurtured new leadership. Since he came to MECA in 2007, he has shown that same leadership in media and speaking appearances; initiating the “Teach Palestine” program to provide information, support, and resources to educators and students; organizing in support of Palestinian rights; and his insight into what are the most important projects for MECA to support on the ground in Palestine and Lebanon.

Although I am retiring as executive director, I‘m not leaving MECA. There’s plenty to keep me busy. But I’m definitely ready to work and travel less. Still, that doesn’t stop me from getting furious every day about what’s happening to children in the Middle East, the U.S., and around the world. I’m not going to stop being angry and I’m not going to stop wanting to do something to make children’s lives better. I know that Zeiad, the rest of the MECA staff, and our supporters feel the same.

From Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch, Executive Director

I met Barbara in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, where I grew up, in 1988. After that, each time she brought a MECA delegation from the United States to Palestine, I would host them in Dheisheh—talking to them about the history and human rights of Palestinian refugees and introducing them to people in the camp who shared their lives, hopes, and dreams.

In 1989, MECA supported a community-run clinic in Dheisheh that was run by local activists. Other international funders preferred to work with large, established NGOs rather than grassroots community organizations. Already I could tell that MECA was different.

Barbara and I developed a strong friendship. We shared a passionate commitment to children, especially those who are refugees; to centering the work around Palestinians’ right of return; and to supporting local leadership in marginalized communities—in Palestine and around the world.

It is a huge challenge to step into Barbara’s shoes. I am lucky to have a strong MECA team in the United States and in Palestine, and a huge network of volunteers, friends, and allies.

No matter who has the title of director, the leadership of our work will always come from our partners fighting for social justice on the ground. We work in solidarity with them, lifting up their work and bringing their voices to people in the United States.