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Archive for : Disaster Relief & Recovery

Repair Interview: Jamie Etkind on Her Time at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Since 2006, Repair the World grantee-partner Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has provided a community and high school in Rwanda for the young people who were orphaned during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also served as an amazing place for service learning.

This past May University of Pennsylvania junior, Jamie Etkind, attended a Hillel-led trip for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students to ASYV for a 10-day service learning program. The students spent time with Agahozo-Shalom’s villagers, worked in their gardens, school and community, and gained a deeper understanding of the lasting impact the genocide has had on the country. Etkind took the time to tell Repair the World about her once-in-a-lifetime service experience.

What is your background with service and volunteering?
I was raised in a reform Jewish household, participated in mitzvah days when I was younger, and had a service project around my bat mitzvah where I raised money for the Koby Mandell Foundation. In high school I was also the co-founder and president of an organization that raised money for and got students involved as volunteers in hospice work. But I had never been on a service trip, and never really given much explicit thought to how deeply related Judaism and service are.

How did you find out about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village?
Two of my friends had participated before and came back with rave reviews. They both said, “you have to do this!” I had learned about the Rwandan genocide in high school, but before the trip I never knew what happened there after the genocide. Leading up to the trip, I was incredibly excited. I did a lot of independent research including watching a bunch of documentaries about what the country is like today. I also read the powerful and fact-filled book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. In the semester leading up to our trip, our group also read a lot of survivor testimonials and did outreach events, so by the time I left I felt pretty well versed – but I still didn’t have any first hand experience.

What did you do during the trip?
A lot of the trip was focused on forming personal relationships with the students in the village. Every morning we would do a service project, like helping in the garden or kitchen. After the students’ school day, we met up with them and went to their after school clubs and took tours of the village. On Saturday, since the students weren’t in school, we got to work side by side with them in the garden.

Can you share a story or two of the impact the trip had?
One of my favorite interactions was with a student named Pacy, who I first met during a meal. One night when we were walking from dinner – it was pitch black outside in the village, but she knew her way – she told me her life story. She opened up about her family’s history and her ambitions and said, “I’d love to be like Oprah someday.” I said, “Oh, so you can be on television?” And she said, “No, so I can help other girls in positions like me.” That was really powerful – these kids have such a sense of service ingrained in them. It’s part of their daily life – they can’t wait to go to university and come back and be the generation that helps make their country great.

What surprised you most on the trip?
I wasn’t expecting to have so much introspection about my Judaism. As I mentioned, I grew up reform but I’ve been a part of the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship at Penn, and have found a lot of meaning in that. On the trip, there were Jews across the denominations, as well as Christian, Catholic, Mormon, and Muslim students. We would talk a lot about religion, and people would ask me very innocent questions like “Why do you work on Saturday, but the other Jews aren’t?” or “Why are you not keeping kosher but the other Jews do?” I had never been asked those questions by anyone and it led me to the realization that if I don’t do these things, I need a reason why. I’m at a point in my life where it’s not enough to simply say, “I do it because I was raised that way.” So my eyes were opened by these other students.

Did the trip also change your thoughts or perspective about Judaism and service?
Yes, I had really never put the two together before even though I’d experienced them together. I never really thought about service being such a strong pillar of Judaism, but that was something we really explored on the trip and it got me thinking. I had always associated tzedakah as simply giving money, but now I know it’s also about service and so much more.

Learn more about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s work here.

Helping Colorado (And Elsewhere) Recover From the Fires and Heat

Earlier this summer, Colorado was on fire. Not the whole state of course, but a shocking amount of it was damaged by drought-induced wildfires. Tens of thousands of acres blazed, thousands of people were evacuated and hundreds lost their homes.

Does this story sound familiar? Increasingly it is. As an op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times writes: “Summer is barely two weeks old and two-thirds of the country is in the grip of a severe drought. More crops will die. More forests will burn.”

In other words, as scientists have predicted for decades, the impacts of climate change are beginning to rear their ugly heads. And as that happens, the risk of weather-related disasters increases.

Become a key part of the global movement to curb climate change. Check out climate-focused organizations like 350.org and The Environmental Defense Fund, and plug into the solution. In the meantime, find out how you can help Colorado recover from the most recent fire on the website HelpColoradoNow.org. The Jewish Federation of Colorado and The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) are also collecting funds to assist those affected.

Repair Interview: Andrew Tepper and the Jewish Disaster Response Corps

Since 2009, Repair the World’s grantee-partner organization, the Jewish Disaster Response Corps has mobilized hundreds of Jewish students in helping to rebuild communities after disasters (like hurricanes, fire, and floods). Recently, JDRC was down in Alabama, rebuilding homes for victims of last year’s tornados.

Andrew Tepper, a senior at NYU who recently volunteered with JDRC, took the time to tell Repair the World about his first experience with manual labor, the trip’s interfaith focus, and the exhilaration that comes from building a home for someone in need.

How did you get involved with JDRC?
I first learned about them last year. One of the Rabbis at the Bronfman Center at NYU spoke about the need for people to help out in Alabama – and particularly about how there had been very few Jewish volunteer groups to go down. Several months after the tornados struck, the initial sensationalism had died down, and support for the area was dwindling a bit. This was a chance to not only live our Jewish values and help others, but a chance to say to the people of Alabama, “we haven’t forgotten about you.”
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Reflecting on the Japan Tsunami, One Year Later

This Sunday, March 11, marks the one year anniversary of the magnitude 9 earthquake, and the resulting tsunamis and nuclear meltdown that devastated large swaths of coastal Japan. In just a few chaotic hours, tens of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. (Watch this video which shows what the damage looks like a year later.)

Japan’s story touched the hearts of people all over the world, and many donated money or time to help out. The Jewish community alone raised millions of dollars of support, and sent trained search and rescue teams to Japan. Repair the World featured a photo slideshow showing rabbinical student Andrew Scheer’s journey in Japan with a delegation of volunteers. And thanks to a DoSomething.org initiative, 2 million paper cranes and well-wishes were sent to Japan, along with more than $500,000 in support. Check it out below:
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Monday Link Round up

Happy Monday and happy day-after-the-Oscars! Hopefully you had fun cheering on your favorite stars, laughing (or not) at Billy Crystal’s jokes, and sizing up the fashion on the red carpet. To get you in the spirit for the rest of the week, here is Repair the World’s weekly round up of service-related posts from around the web.

  • The Huffington Post reported on which Oscar nominees were the most charitable. (For Repair the World’s coverage on Hollywood volunteering and philanthropy, click here.)
  • JTA published a story on the first anniversary of the devastating tsunamis in Japan about the positive impact Israeli disaster responders had in helping post-tsunami trauma victims.
  • GOOD helps introduce Bully, an important new documentary about the epidemic of bullying in American schools.
  • GOOD also shared several books that cover the topic of bullying, and different students’ responses to it.
  • Sustainablog shared a story about an urban garden located at a bus stop in London, that is helping to build community. (Includes a great video featuring charming British accents!)

Remembering Haiti

Two years ago on this day, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake took the lives of over 300,000 Haitians, displacing thousands and thousands more, and causing vast amounts of damage to the region. Like many natural disasters and world-events, the earthquake may have happened two years ago, but its impact is still felt today. Today, one and a half million people are still displaced, 550,000 people continue to live in camps, and the number of orphans nearly doubled. Thanks to the support of devoted volunteers, NGOs and service-workers who rushed down, some progress has been made. According to the The Huffington Post, 50% of the debris has been removed and 20% has been recycled. Nearly 369,000 people have been provided access to clean water, 2.4 million with health services and hygiene education, and 3 million with cholera treatment prevention. But the work is far from done.

As global citizens – and as Jews – we are responsible for helping to alleviate each others’ suffering. Below are some ways you can still give your time and effort to help Haiti in its efforts to rebuild:

Volunteer, Support & Learn

  • AJWS: AJWS’ long-standing partnerships in the region made it possible for them to respond within 48 hours of the earthquake.  Today, AJWS funds 40 extraordinary organizations in Haiti and is a leader in the U.S.-based movement for Haitian-led redevelopment.
  • JDC’s Inside Haiti: Volunteer with JDC in the fields of medical assistance, educational support and humanitarian relief.
  • Tevel B’tzedek’s Haiti Program: The IsraAID – Tevel b’Tzedek delegation began its work in Haiti one month after the quake. They’ve been implementing community development techniques such as women and youth groups and informal education in three villages in the Leogan district ever since.
  • Habitat for Humanity: Habitat’s commitment to Haiti dates back 27 years before the 2010 earthquake. Today, they continue to be a leading organization in helping to rebuild Haiti.
  • Aid Still Required:  “Just because it left the headlines, doesn’t mean it left the planet.” Aid Still Required has helped support Haiti’s growth to self-sufficiency, including women’s empowerment efforts, child services, and reforestation. Use hashtag #AidStillRequired to spread the word about Haiti.
  • American Red Cross: Two years after the Haiti earthquake, the American Red Cross is helping Haitian people rebuild their homes and their lives and improving communities with health, water and sanitation projects.
  • On1Foot.org: Interested in hosting a text study on disaster relief in general? Check out this resource for texts which explore a moral obligation to respond to humanitarian crises.