Gerbils, matzah, and solar concentrators

From April 3-5, AIES students in the “Biodiversity of Sand Dunes” class joined students from Haifa University for a 3 day biodiversity exercise in the Samar sand dunes. The group sleepily headed out to the dunes at 5:00 each morning to learn about the landscape and wildlife that is endemic to that environment.  The group spent the morning setting traps for various desert creatures such as gerbils, beetles, lizards, skinks, and gerboa. The hottest parts of the day were spent in the classroom identifying and indexing the species that were caught that morning, and around dusk the students returned to the dunes to release the creatures back into the wild. The expedition was a sunny, sandy and fun learning experience for all.  This program is part of a Long term Ecological Research project that monitors the wildlife of the Arava every year.  The trip is in partnership with the Oranim school at Haifa University lead by Dr. Uri Shanas together with AIES’s Dr.Elli Groner.

On Monday, April 16th, Dr. Tareq Abu Hammed’s Introduction to Environmental Science class went on a short trip to explore different renewable energy sites in the region. The students saw Kibbutz Samar’s solar concentrator, the solar panels, wind power, and biodigestor at Kibbutz Yotvata, and made a visit to the regional council. The group also renewed their own personal energy with ice cream from the Yotvata rest stop!

On Tuesday April 10,during the Passover vacation, Brian Hoefgen – the AIES administrative intern and my helpful assistant – organized a small alumni gathering in Amman, Jordan. Brian and 11 others (including his classmates from fall semester 2010)  met at the Books@Cafe to catch up, share stories, and talk with fellow alumni.

Erin Jenkins, the Development Associate for Friends of the Arava Institute, recently came for a visit to the Middle East. This was Erin’s first visit to the Arava Institute, and she spent much of her time with students, interns, staff members and faculty in order to get a better understanding of what the Arava Institute is all about. The highlight of her visit to AIES was the Biodiversity trip, which Erin joined for one day. After witnessing the magic that happens at AIES, Erin crossed into Jordan to travel around with friends and to meet with AIES alumni.

As you can see, the construction of the new AIES dormitories is progressing smoothly and quickly! The project is estimated to be completed by July 15th, in time for the 2012 fall semester.

The students recently returned from their Passover vacation, which was from April 3rd through the 14th. Many of the students travelled around the region, and one student flew to New York. Whether their vacation was spent visiting family or sightseeing, everyone recharged their batteries and came back to Ketura with stories to share.

Before the Passover vacation, Tareq Abu Hamed and I traveled to Abu- Rabia village with Yair Teller to see a biodigester project that he is currently constructing. The Abu-Rabia Bedouin village is located near Qsaife in the Negev just outside of Beer Sheva,. The biodigester is being constructed for the use of one family in order to increase the amount of renewable energy being produced and used in their household. Not only will this biodigester serve as a means of creating electricity for heating, cooling and refrigeration, but it will also raise awareness of how to reuse and recycle organic waste from livestock. The biodigester is part of a MERC comparative study research.  A similar biodigester is being constructed in Jordan for the same study.

As part of the PELS program and Holocaust Memorial Day, the students held a dialogue session to discuss what the Holocaust meant to them and how this memorial day impacts Israeli life today. To introduce the conversation of the Holocaust, Brian Hoefgen made a visual display of modern genocides and massacres that have happened around the world under certain dictators rulings. Many students were heartfelt telling personal stories relating to their family members that survived the Holocaust, while other students were learning about the Holocaust for the first time.

This past Wednesday and Friday, eight AIES students and one staff member took part in an intensive two-day mud building workshop with Mike Kaplin of the Kibbutz Lotan eco village. The group spent two days learning both the theory and practice of building sustainably with natural materials. They made mud bricks, mixed different coats of mud and applied them to various projects around the “Eco Kef” ecological park, practiced design work, and learned about different building techniques as well as how to test local soils. This was the first mudbuilding workshop held between the Arava Institute and the mud builders of Lotan. Huge thanks to student Dana Newman for organizing the workshop and to Mike the mud guru for teaching the group this amazing and useful skill!

That is all for now. Stay tuned for the next blog to find out about two staff members travelling to Belgium for the Trans-boundary Water Basin Management Program, an AIES conference with the Office for Regional Cooperation, the two day PELS Jerusalem trip, and more. Special thanks to Amelie Joseph, Uriel Pinsky, Brian Hoefgen, Erica Spiritos, and Abby Lutman for their photos, and to Brian Hoefgen and Shannon Wade for their contribution to this blog!

Miriam Sharton,

Executive Director

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The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies

Kibbutz Ketura
D.N. Hevel Eilot 88840, Israel 
TEL 972-8-6356618
FAX 972-8-6356634
EMAIL info@arava.org

Friends of the Arava Institute

1320 Centre Street, Suite 206
Newton Centre, MA 02459, USA
TEL 1-617-266-7100
EMAIL info@friendsofarava.org


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