Shalom Life | September 22, 2014

Young Israeli and Diaspora Jewish Adults Volunteer in Developing Countries

New Tikkun Empowerment Network provides young Jews the opportunity to serve and learn together

By: Joshua Berkman

Published: August 21st, 2012 in News » World

Young Israeli and Diaspora Jewish Adults Volunteer in Developing Countries

A group of 11 young Jewish adults from Israel and the Diaspora have arrived in Hyderabad, India where, in partnership with B’Tzedek, The Jewish Agency has opened a volunteer center as part of its new Project T.E.N. (Tikkun Empowerment Network)—a global Tikkun Olam initiative that brings together Jewish young adults from around the world to spend three months working and learning together in impoverished communities worldwide.

In Hyderabad, groups of two to four volunteers will be working on numerous projects simultaneously. The projects focus on helping different populations confront social challenges at the grassroots level. Projects are expected to include: teaching at a children’s group home during school hours, or running after-school activities; providing professional training to youth and adults to help them gain valuable employment skills; planning activities for the elderly poor; helping sports coaches weave interpersonal and intrapersonal skills into their instruction to disadvantaged children; teaching English to staff members of NGOs so they can function more fully; and organizing small-scale social entrepreneur projects. In addition, volunteers will attend meetings with staff of leading international corporations to learn about corporate social responsibility initiatives and will also meet with Indian university students who are interested in social change.

The group now in Hyderabad is the first Project T.E.N. cohort at the center. But there is currently a group of volunteers stationed in Gondar, Ethiopia—also the first cohort there—where they have been earning the widespread praise of local leaders for their work with community members of all ages, including advocating to community officials for resources so locals could repair homes and public centers, assisting at a medical clinic for the critically ill and opening a day camp for orphans in a local school.

"I'm very excited about what Project T.E.N. is doing in Gondar,” said Mtzlal, a native Ethiopian, who is one of the Project T.E.N. coordinators and an NGO worker in the Gojo—the neighborhood where most of the global Tikkun Olam projects in Gondar are operating. “We are really turning around things that have stagnated for years. For the first time in years, I'm putting together a report on the situation in the neighborhood—number of aids patients, their age and treatment status, clothes distribution that is crucial at this time of year (rainy season)—we also dug a drainage canal for the neighborhood, where there is often flooding, which causes dirty water to flow into huts. They thought (T.E.N.) is just another organization that buys some stuff for the people and then leaves, but now they understand that we're really here for the long run. But it's not just the Gojo project that has started moving, but also the other projects. The next step is to help people learn how to do things for themselves and earn money."

Ben-Ari Boukai is a volunteer originally from Indianapolis. In Gondar, he has helped run the day camp for orphans. He said that not only does he feel that his working will make a lasting impact on the community of Gojo, but also on his own life.

“The work is significant,” Boukai said. “At the Yenge Tesfe, there is no structure over the summer without the camp we created, and the kids either work or get bored. The camp is a tool, a tool for reaching them. I feel that, even five years from now, they’ll be using what they gain here. The kids don’t have families, but we can be role models for them. The (local staff) in the Project T.E.N. center is really supportive, and that’s what makes this program special—the support and the enrichment from the educational program and from the community.”

Tal Cantor, originally from Montreal, said that volunteering at the Mother Teresa Health Clinic—where the gravely ill receive care—has taught her the importance of leaving her comfort zone.

“It’s unbelievable how quickly our projects started to make a difference,” Cantor said. “There is a sense of pioneering… At first it was hard for me to even enter the health clinic, let alone talk to the patients. The condition of most of these people is hard to see. But now it’s natural for me to talk to them, to laugh, touch them and show them love.”

The program is planning to open 12 centers in all. By the spring of 2013, there will be global Tikkun Olam centers operating in localities such as Israel’s Galilee, Brazil, Thailand and Equador. Once they open, global Tikkun Olam centers will simultaneously host groups year-round that are a mix of young Jewish adults from around the globe. As groups rotate in, others will rotate out. The second Gondar cohort will be on September 10, a second Hyderabad cohort will be arriving on November 6, the first groups for Israel and Brazil will be arriving the first week of December, and a third Gondar group will be arriving on December 10.

“Nowhere in the Jewish world is a there a service-learning program of a similar scope that brings Jews from all corners of the globe together to make a difference,” said Nir Lahav, Director of Jewish Service Learning for The Jewish Agency. “By spending three months working and learning together to help empower the poor and vulnerable, young Jewish adults from different backgrounds—and with a range of different life experiences—will find common ground as they build partnerships with one another. These partnerships will turn into lifelong friendships, the sorts of connections critical to a secure, global Jewish future.”

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