“SINSILA” in Arabic means the natural stonewalls, also called “Salasal”, which are medium-sized stones, close to each other, in the form of monolithic chains that do not exceed one meter high. The longitudinal shape is dependent on the slopes of the mountains and hills in order to prevent soil erosion, and ensures the continuation of agricultural activity without obstacles in mountains planted with trees, especially olives, almonds, grapes and seasonal plants.
The Sinsila center is located in the heart of East Jerusalem, on the terraces of the Central Library. It is dedicated to educate, inspire, create with, and empower, local communities. Its goal is to heal the urban environment of Jerusalem by providing local and sustainable solutions. Sinsila’s plan action has three main focus points: employment, inspiration, and education. It aims at having a multidimensional approach in order encompass healing the city, community work, urban planning, economic empowerment, sustainability, and ecology.
Sinsila is originally a group of hard working individuals who joined forces in order to convert an idea to reality. They started from this basic observation: in a very dense city, there were many vacant unused spaces in the heart of East Jerusalem, which presented a huge potential: rooftops. The journey began when they initiated a community garden around the public Central Library around three years ago. But working with the community is no easy challenge. This is why they needed a pilot project to show the community that it is, indeed, possible to plant at home and start changing their environment small steps at a time. One rooftop in particular stood out from the rest for the remarkable possibilities it allowed to envision: the terraces of the public Central Library. In 2019, the first beekeeping course successfully took place and participants all received beehives, which were thus distributed all over East Jerusalem. Beehives were also installed on the terrace of the library, which was the first step in establishing the sustainability and community center that Sinsila is today. A year and a half later, thanks to various partners, Sinsila is truly blooming.
Concretely, what does that mean? Sinsila is a community center in the first place. The most basic need it serves is welcoming people from all around East Jerusalem, in a place where they can meet, debate, learn, exchange, and grow. It has two terraces, one with a bee center including a sculpture, hives, plants, and shading, and a larger one with various plants, hydroponic systems, shading and tables and chairs. Inside, there is a kitchen available to all, that will soon become a community café ran by Sinsila program alumnae, as well as a learning space. This space can thus host workshops, courses, events, exhibits, as it already has in the past 2 years.
Sinsila main objectives and components
Achievements and Future Plans
The first big success of this community center was its aforementioned beekeeping course entailing the distribution of hives. Indeed, not only did it contribute to making the city greener, it was also a tool of economic empowerment and community building, with some course participants having sold honey, and a strong group of women emerging from it. The top of the library with the two terraces officially became a community center and is now of use (even if it has not officially opened to the public) – the outdoor spaces and kitchen have been installed, and the office and café still have to be built. The planting and bee sculpture have been completed which is an asset visually but also provides resources for the future community café. Several other events took place such as community work days to empower the community to turn the center into what they want it to be (by painting the inside walls for instance, or planting the terraces). An urban farming course was also completed, a beeswax workshop, and a long permaculture course is currently taking place.
There will be a new rooftop urban agricultural techniques course, art events and exhibits from East Jerusalem based artists (in particular, a project to take pictures documenting the community gardens, including those with hives, that course alumnae created after participating in workshops at Sinsila). There will also be a link to the food rescue project via the launch of the community café (making it a sustainable enterprise with affordable produce).
Sinsila will be a true community space with its café and numerous courses, cultural events and workshops. There will be a women cooperative created around honey and bee-related products. The ecotourism aspect will also be addressed via tours and events. The goal is having core community members run these aspects as they have participated in the beekeeping course and nearly all courses and workshops since. They are the beating heart of this community center, the reason it exists and part of its future. They know a lot of relevant things on the set up of the physical space, they know all about the bees and compost on one terrace, and about the various hydroponic systems on the other, which means they could give tours to the community or to any guest in general. That way, the project would come full cycle by being a community center for the community and run by the community.