He started out distributing clothes in East Amman, but Ali Dahmash is now expanding his organization Under My Olive Tree to other countries. “When we post a case, we receive a reaction in 24 hours. That is magic!” he says.
In this Q&A with Your Middle East, Ali speaks about the importance of social media activism, what the war on Gaza meant for him and why he is optimistic about the future of the Arab world.
YME: How did you come up with the idea for Under My Olive Tree?
AD: It all began 5 years ago when a friend called me and told me she needs help with moving some of her used clothes to a nonprofit in Jabal Al Natheef, which is an underprivileged area in East Amman. It was an eye opener for me to realize that there is a lot to give for the local community. I always wanted to help but didn’t know how.
After my first visit, I started telling people through my blog if they have used clothes and home appliances that they didn’t know what to do with. So I started meeting on the weekend and collect their donations and drop them in East Amman.
Right after that, the Israeli war on Gaza began and I started telling people to join me in collecting food parcels that will be sent to Gaza. It was an amazing experience to see that all people wanted to help but didn’t know how.
After the war ended, I started my website UnderMyOliveTree.com to be the platform for ordinary people to refer to when they wanted to do a difference in their community. The website has guidelines on how to become a social activist and what one can do.
Part of my volunteering experience was to locate cases that need empowerment and verify such cases. So a lot of fieldwork was involved. I started posting the cases online, on Facebook, Twitter and of course the Website. The feedback was overwhelming.
I then realized that things have taken a serious track and that I should focus on empowering the community rather than just collecting donations.
YME: Does your mission stretch across the entire region or is it focused on Jordan?
AD: It is now focused in Jordan only but we are planning to expand to refugee camps in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
YME: What kind of response have you received so far; both from inside Jordan and abroad? Do you for instance talk a lot with Jordanian expats in Europe, Asia and the US?
AD: The responses of people are simply amazing. Many want to make a change especially Jordanians living abroad. So far we had people donating in the Gulf, UK, USA and all the way from Singapore. Of course a lot of the donations come from Jordan. It is very easy to outreach with the globe using Facebook and Twitter and the website.
YME: Do you feel that the Arab "diaspora" is becoming more involved in the region's internal affairs? Is this good or bad?
AD: I wouldn’t call it diaspora because many people choose to immigrate to other countries in Europe and North America. But the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi refugees have made people want to help more than before. I see the good in people who want to help other people despite their different ethnicities, color or religion, that’s the beauty of real activism.
YME: What's the most important objective of you organisation/blog?
AD: The main objective of our nonprofit is to empower the local community and bring awareness to ordinary people that they too can make a difference.
Currently, we are focusing on the following:
1. Creating an education fund for less privileged students
2. Creating sustainable projects (small businesses) that support the beneficiary families
3. Empowering humanitarian cases
4. Providing health support to less privileged families
5. Encouraging volunteering
YME: You're talking a lot about social media activism on your website, how important is this and what kind of role can it play?
AD: Social media is our main platform to reach more people in far places. It has played a major role in our operations. Through social media we are able to employ volunteers at any time. It also helps our cases, so when we post a case, we receive reaction with less than 24 hours. That is magic!
YME: Has the Arab uprisings affected your work in any way? If so, for the better or worse?
AD: So far the political scene in the Arab world has put more economical pressure on less privileged communities. The migration of Iraqis and Syrians has made it more challenging for NGOs to create change. But I’m optimistic that the Arab Spring will actually bring some spring to this part of the world, but it’s a process that needs time.
YME: What are the biggest challenges for Under My Olive Tree?
AD: I would say the economy in general. It is not only hard on less privileged families but also on the middle class who used to play a larger role before in empowering those families.
YME: Finally, are you optimistic about the future? Do you see the region moving forward?
AD: I just hope so; we all want the good for our children and people. But how can people realize that there is good in this world if they are not part of it. People need to be more involved in community work. And I mean here to begin with the children in schools by involving them in volunteering work. If we begin with people at a younger age, then in 10 years time, we have a complete generation who are already creating positive change!