The service organization Rotary International professes five core objectives, and local club members aimed to address two of them -- peace and maternal/childhood health -- with their financial help in launching a birthing center and a prenatal clinic in Palestine's West Bank.
After a seven-year effort, the birthing center opened in Ein Al Beida at the northern end of the West Bank on March 19, said project manager Donna Baranski-Walker of the Rotary Club of Woodside/Portola Valley. The prenatal clinic opened in the nearby village of Al Aqaba at around the same time, she said.
Ms. Baranski-Walker gave more than 60 talks at Rotary clubs in the Bay Area and in Israel and Palestine. "It was really fun to watch how forthcoming everybody was," she said. "People really wanted to find a way to make this happen."
Occasionally, she faced pointed questions. For example, she said at least one person asked her if all Palestinians were terrorists. They're not terrorists, she said she replied. "They live there. They're human beings."
"We're really proud of Rotarian Donna's perseverance to bring this simple but challenging project together," said Woodside resident Ken Broome, who was director of international service at the Woodside/Portola Valley club when the project began in 2008.
Seven Bay Area Rotary clubs participated, including the Woodside/Portola Valley and Menlo Park clubs, Ms. Baranski-Walker said. A Rotary club in Ramallah, Palestine, sponsored the project. Yusef Srouji of a Rotary district in Israel served as a mentor, an important role because he lives in Israel and was familiar with all the players, Ms. Baranski-Walker said.
Of the $60,000 needed to equip and provide training for the staff at the two facilities, $40,000 came from Rotary clubs, the Rotary district of the Bay Area, and Rotary International, Ms. Baranski-Walker said. Her San Mateo-based nonprofit, Rebuilding Alliance, employed crowd-funding to raise the other $20,000, she said.
Expectant mothers, including mothers in labor, have had to pass through an Israeli checkpoint to get to a hospital, Ms. Baranski-Walker said.
She recalled Haj Sami, the mayor of Al Aqaba, telling of military training maneuvers going on near the checkpoint that sometimes involved live fire from Israeli tanks. Such situations can make it difficult to reach the hospital, Mr. Sami said during a visit to Bay Area Rotary clubs.
The presence of the birthing center should have the effect of reducing the number of Palestinian children being delivered by Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint, Ms. Baranski-Walker said.
There were project delays involving both the Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracies, sometimes for months, she said.
When the center is operating at full capacity, it will be open around the clock. The center is open to people of all faiths, she said.