On the Ground in Nepal: 4th Update from AJWS Staff

AJWS’s Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, and Associate Director of Risk Management and Administrative Services, Aaron Acharya, traveled to Nepal last week to lead AJWS’s response to the earthquake. This is the fourth on-the-ground update from Samantha and Aaron. Read their first, second, and third updates. 

A snapshot of the earthquake’s aftermath in Kavrepalanchok district.

A snapshot of the earthquake’s aftermath in Kavrepalanchok district.

Yesterday, we headed east to the Kavrepalanchok district, about 40 miles from the Tibet border, where future grantee BBP-Paliwar showed us scenes of devastation, resilience and hope. The hike up the terraced mountain to get to Makaitar, a small, rural village, was more difficult than previous trips. We met Pabitra Bika, a mother of four who was widowed because of the earthquake. Her husband, a basket weaver, had stopped at a friend’s house while he was out collecting bamboo when the disaster struck. While trying to rescue others, the house fatally collapsed on him.

“If he was at home, it would not have happened,” Pabitra told us.

Pabitra tends a vegetable garden and leads the women’s group BBP has helped organize in the village. She knows groups like BBP will help with housing, but she was in such a state of shock when we spoke to her that she wasn’t sure how to move forward.

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Pabitra and one of her sons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We don’t have a life; we don’t have shelter,” she said, adding that her children will have to quit school to help support their mother with weaving, gardening and rebuilding. “It’s a difficult time. We haven’t seen the Army.”

The earthquake carved a creek through the village, but Pabitra said she refuses to send her children a few hundred yards away for water because she fears for their safety.

“I can’t bear to lose somebody else in my family,” she said. “I wish I could have just died [too].”

A few days after she shared this with us, the second earthquake hit. We haven’t heard an update about the Bikas yet.

This was the hardest visit we experienced and reinforced for us the importance of prioritizing psychosocial support in AJWS’s relief efforts. We also saw the resiliency of the Nepalese people in the smiling face of Dipa, one of Pabitra’s daughters, who boasted that—for now, at least—she’s still in school.

Sam with Pabitra’s daughter, Dipa

Sam with Pabitra’s daughter, Dipa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children in a nearby village survey damage.

Children in a nearby village survey damage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A house in Makaitar sustained ubiquitous cracks, displacing the family that lived there.

A house in Makaitar sustained ubiquitous cracks, displacing the family that lived there.

A boy in Kavre is happy to be alive and proud of his country.

A boy in Kavre is happy to be alive and proud of his country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam and Aaron are inspired by their visit.

Sam and Aaron are inspired by their visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

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Nursery school students help repair the world

Our President Ruth Messinger met with some adorable, charitable four-year-old students at the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at the JCC in Manhattan this morning to thank them for their generous contribution to our Nepal Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund.

The students organized a bake sale last week after learning about the devastating Nepal earthquake, raising more than $1,000 for our Nepal Fund!

The students presented the donation to Ruth at the JCC this morning. She taught them about AJWS’s work in Nepal, thanked the students personally, and explained how each of them played a small but meaningful part in helping those in desperate need across the world.

Check out the adorable photos and the video below from Ruth’s visit.

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Thank you to the amazing JCC Manhattan Nursery School for your generous donation to our Nepal Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund!

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On the Ground in Nepal: 3rd Update from AJWS Staff

AJWS’s Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, and Associate Director of Risk Management and Administrative Services, Aaron Acharya, are in Nepal this week leading our response to the earthquake. This is the third on-the-ground update from Samantha and Aaron. Read their first update here and their second update here.

Aaron wrote the update below after their visit with a future AJWS grantee to Mazuwa, a village just west of Kathmandu.

The view as you lumber up to the fork leading to the village of Mazuwa is spectacular. Terraces filled with freshly sprouting crops and vegetables, green trees on the slopes on all sides.

I felt happy as we parked Saurav’s four-by-four at the fork and started the ten-minute walk to the villages of Sano Mazuwa and Mazuwa. Except that there was not much today in Mazuwa to be happy about.

For two hours, we drove from Kathmandu toward Mazuwa, on the border of the Dhading district. Every third or fourth house has been turned into rubble. In some places, houses have fallen on to the road, so cars take turns to pass through. Tents given by the Chinese Red Cross line some sections of the road.

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The village of Mazuwa, a collection of 54 houses with a view to die for, has been reduced to rubble. Only two houses built with concrete still stand, but with cracks.

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Luckily, there was no loss of human life here. Sharmila, a lovely little girl of about five, and her many cousins survived. But school is closed, so they stay home, which is now a tarp or a tent.

For now, their hopes, dreams, comforts are all buried under the rocks, dust and wood that protected them just a few days ago after the earthquake struck. They still smile, accept candies and hugs shyly, and run into the tarps when you tease them. Some, like Sharmila’s little cousin brother, have become sober. He recounts, in halting Nepali (their language at home is Tamang), the number of cattle that are dead.

Buried along with the hopes of the community are approximately 250 goats. There is no means to excavate them. Help seems to be far away. The few that survived look at the camera as if they know what is going on. They are grateful to have survived.

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The slope below the village is gradually turning green with freshly sprouting crops and vegetables. The elders say that the villagers have no energy to tend to the crops.

The landscape is beautiful. Life, in normal times, must be brutal here – people eke out a living, day by day, by farming on the terraces with very steep slopes. These days, youngsters don’t belt out songs while they fetch fodder for the cattle. Laughing children don’t run up and down the dirt road. It is a somber atmosphere – a long wait for the government, for non-governmental organizations, for community leaders, to come and help rebuild a shattered life.

We ask what message should we take to the world out there. They say they do not want much. They say there may be others who may have suffered more. ‘At least no one died here,’ they say and try a smile. All they want is some support to build a house large enough to sleep all members of their families. They will take care of the rest themselves. One of the elders said he did not know where to start: kaha bata thalnu thalnu bhayo.

Samantha and I walk all the way to the end of the rubble, where the little hill top that was the village cascades down into a steep slope filled with terraces. If you were to look up and imagine the village as it must have been before, you would see happy people from humble homes, speaking in the rather smooth mountain dialect, songs belting out from the radios, young boys checking out young girls as they walked up the dirt road to fetch water, teenagers showing off their new shoes in a game of chungis. If you were like me, you would see yourself – I grew up in terraces just like these.

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Sam talking to children who lost their homes. They felt lucky to be alive. Sharmila (in purple) smiled the best smile in town. Her little cousin brother seemed to have grown old – he recounted the number of houses lost and goats dead. School is off until the building is repaired. That probably will be months away.

 

 

 

 

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Family in the village of Mazuwa

 

 

 

 

 

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Sharmila smiled the best smile in town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is tempting to tell them all will be well; that help is on the way; that it will soon be over. It is tempting to give away what little you have. It is tempting to stay there with them in solidarity. Our friends from Kathmandu indicate that it is time to go. I flick away a tear, thank the strong people of Mazuwa and slowly trudge up the hill thinking of the best ways to make the most of what little assistance we can provide.

Now it is on to figuring out how we can rebuild safely. The first step we took was to agree to fund a small a project that will design earthquake proof housing for the people of Nepal. We will navigate the complicated situation of multiple entities with varying ideas of what should be done and how. But one needs to start somewhere.

 

To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

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On the Ground in Nepal: 2nd Update from AJWS Staff

AJWS’s Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, and Associate Director of Risk Management and Administrative Services, Aaron Acharya, are in Nepal this week leading our response to the earthquake. This is the second on-the-ground update from Samantha and Aaron. Read their first update here.

Today, Aaron and I went on a site visit to Mazuwa, a village just west of Kathmandu, with a future AJWS grantee this morning. The older woman I interviewed is Saili Tamang.

Saili’s story is one of remarkable resilience. It’s clear that she is not a victim of the earthquake—but rather a strong, powerful, empowered, wonderful warm woman whose resilience in the face of crisis is truly incredible. She thanks us for making her happy although, truthfully, she is to thank for inspiring us and making us laugh.

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AJWS’s Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, with Saili Tamang, an earthquake survivor from Mazuwa, Nepal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saili insisted that we see the house she lived in that was flattened by the quake. Below is a photo of the remains of the house. The Nepalese army is distributing tents to some villages and didn’t give one to her, so she continues asking for one, saying “Give it to the old lady and you’ll cultivate karma!”

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The government has insisted that all relief go through the village development committees (VDCs). Unfortunately, this has meant that family and friends of the government officials have been prioritized and Dalit and indigenous communities have been neglected. And most of the VDCs are in town centers. So, in some cases, the relief supplies have been sitting in offices in the city rather than being distributed to the villages that desperately need them. Witnessing this firsthand has emphasized the importance of AJWS’s belief that community members are best placed to serve their own communities in times of need. AJWS’s support to local, community-based groups means that aid will get to those who need it quicker. And aid will get to the poor and vulnerable communities who are at greater risk of further trauma in the aftermath of the earthquake.

The stress and trauma of having lived through this disaster is apparent—people we met with talked about still feeling like that ground is shaking all the time; many of them have not returned to sleep indoors; an individual said his parents are still sleeping in the living room as they are afraid of going back to their upstairs bedroom; one woman’s mother ran out of the house to escape during the earthquake and has been hospitalized with minor physical injuries but is very traumatized and still feels that the ground is shaking beneath her.

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Shelter is a huge issue. Many people are sleeping outside in some cases under tarps on their land or worse, have been relocated from their villages to temporary ‘holding places’ far from their land. The monsoon is fast approaching and there is fear that they will still be under tarps or in tents during heavy rains and that diarrhea and other communicable diseases will spread. There is also fear that the NGO community will be too slow to respond, that villagers will begin building again and that the structures will be made in the same way—not built to withstand an earthquake as before. Time is of the essence.

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IMG_0577There is concern that families are having to choose whether they will rebuild their homes or tend to their fields. If they neglect their crops, food and livelihoods will be a huge issue. Many young men in families have left Nepal to find work elsewhere, so the lack of able-bodied “man power” makes rebuilding and tending to crops that much more difficult.

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To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

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On the Ground in Nepal: 1st Update from AJWS Staff

It has now been 10 days since Nepal was struck by the deadliest earthquake to hit the country since 1934. The death toll has exceeded 7,500 and the United Nations reports that millions are affected. AJWS set up our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund within hours of the earthquake and we’re providing immediate support and humanitarian relief to six organizations in Nepal.

Yesterday, two of our staff members arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal to assess how AJWS can best provide assistance to some of the most vulnerable communities devastated by the earthquake. Our Director of Disaster Response & International Operations, Samantha Wolthuis, and Associate Director of International Operations, Aaron Acharya, will meet with the local organizations we’re supporting and assess how AJWS can best provide both immediate emergency assistance and respond to the disaster in the long-term.

Samantha shared the update below after she and Aaron arrived at the Kathmandu airport.

On our way to the hotel, there were open fields filled with tents that people are living under. We are staying in what normally would be considered a very busy and touristy part of town and it is desolate. Many of the buildings have been vacated and labeled uninhabitable. The streets were dark last night although a few restaurants were open—with candlelight—and starting to get back on their feet. We have confirmed 5 meetings today—with a mix of local, potential future partners; 1 large international non-governmental organization; and a few people who have been recommended to us and can help us understand what is really happening on the ground.

Samantha and Aaron took the devastating photos below on a walk in Kathmandu earlier this morning.

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Follow our blog in the coming days for more updates from Samantha and Aaron.

To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

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How not to rebuild Nepal: Lessons from Haiti five years after its earthquake

Originally published in The Washington Post.

The aftermath of the earthquake in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Diego Azubel/EPA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Saturday, I watched with the rest of the world as images emerged in the wake of Nepal’s violent earthquake: the dusty faces of survivors, bloodied bodies, the ruined historic buildings. It reminded me of the devastation I witnessed after the earthquake in my homeland, Haiti, five years ago — and it made me worry about what will come next in Nepal.

Soon the people of Nepal, with the help of international donors, will begin the rebuilding process. They will face some of the same challenges that we faced in Haiti — and I hope that they will be able to avoid the grave mistakes made by Haitians and by the well-intentioned donors who came to our aid.

There were two disasters in Haiti: the earthquake, and then the humanitarian crisis that followed. More than $10 billion in foreign aid stillhasn’t enabled our country to recover from this disaster. In the hope that Nepal will learn from our experience, here are five lessons for effective and just disaster relief:

1. Listen to local people.

Most aid projects in Haiti promised “community participation,” yet most failed to truly include local people. What happened with housing provides a clear example. Many aid groups insisted on moving earthquake survivors who were living under tarps into “transitional shelters.” They ignored the objections of Haitians, who feared the flimsy plywood structures — prone to leaks and collapse — would become their permanent homes. Aid groups spent more than $500 million on these transitional shelters,” but have built less than 9,000 new long-term houses. Tragically, yesterday’s “temporary” shelters have become today’s permanent slums.

2. Put money in the hands of local people.

Many aid groups sent well-meaning but barely trained volunteers and deployed foreign doctors and nurses to areas where skilled Haitian professionals were readily available. Of every dollar given to the earthquake response in Haiti, less than a penny went to Haitian organizations.

If these funds had supported local people and organizations, the money would have gone much further. I witnessed the remarkable work of community groups that helped house and care for the more than 600,000 people who fled Port-au-Prince to the countryside. The groups trained displaced people to become farmers so they could earn a living and rebuild their lives.

3. Reach the most vulnerable people.

When a disaster strikes, people who were already poor or oppressed — or who live far from the center of relief efforts — tend to suffer disproportionately. In Haiti, many villages on the periphery of Port-au-Prince didn’t receive food or water for weeks after the quake. Oppressed minorities, including the LGBT community, were particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence in displacement camps and were overlooked by aid groups.

4. Invest in infrastructure now to prevent larger disasters in the future.

Most aid after the earthquake focused on the short term, often ignoringlong-term needs, especially infrastructure needed to prevent humanitarian crises in the future. My country is still struggling to contain the largest modern outbreak of cholera in history. The disease is thought to have been introduced by United Nations peacekeeping forces after the 2010 earthquake, but the crisis does not end there. This epidemic has continued largely because relief funds have unfortunately not been used to help Haitibuild sufficient sewage systems.

5. Aid must be coordinated, efficient and transparent.

Though coordinating aid seems like the most obvious thing to do, it didn’t happen in Haiti. Many aid groups clamored to support high-profile projects, which resulted in wasteful redundancies in some areas while allowing people in less well-known places to languish. Lack of accountability about foreign aid was the rule, with donors and Haitians receiving little news about how this aid was being spent.

In the coming days, the people of Nepal will need essential supplies like food, clean water and blankets. Later, they’ll need support to rebuild broken infrastructure and prepare for future natural disasters. Given the great need, governments and aid organizations must carefully discern how they provide that assistance. The decisions the international community makes now will reverberate into Nepal’s future — and I hope it won’t look anything like Haiti’s recent past.


 

NixonBoumbaNixon Boumba, born in Haiti, works as an in-country consultant there to American Jewish World Service, an international aid and human rights organization.

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Children Respond to the Crisis in Nepal

We launched our Nepal Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund on the day the quake hit, and AJWS supporters of all ages immediately responded with a generous outpouring of donations, some with notes and tributes. One of the most moving of all the responses came from the three children of Rabbi Sharon Brous, a member of AJWS’s rabbinic advisory board, and her husband, David Light. Rabbi Brous and David Light wrote a cover note to our president, Ruth Messinger and sent along her children’s note:

Dear Ruth,

We are all so grateful to you for working on the front lines to help rescue and support survivors. My kids just emptied their tzedakah jars to make contributions to AJWS. They wrote this note:

Dear Ruth,

We were upset and emotional when we looked at the pictures of the earthquake. It made us feel relieved to know that you are working on this. We are proud that you’re a Jewish organization because it reflects on us and it shows that we’re not just loud and funny but we also save people’s lives. We have been saving up our money for a long time and we decided to give it to AJWS because we know that you’re making a difference. We’re so sad for the people who died and we hope that this never happens again.

Love,

Eva (11), Sami (8) and Levi (6)

With deep gratitude,

Sharon and David

Rabbi Sharon Brous, a member of AJWS’s rabbinic advisory board, with her husband David Light and their three children Eva, Sami and Levi

Rabbi Sharon Brous, a member of AJWS’s rabbinic advisory board, with her husband David Light and their three children Eva, Sami and Levi

 

To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

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AJWS Responds to the Earthquake in Nepal

The devastation of last Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal is just beginning to sink in. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25th was the worst quake to hit the country since 1934. Eyewitnesses report that historic buildings, including seven major temples, have been destroyed near Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, and the force of the quake triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. Latest reports state that there are at least 5,200 dead and thousands more injured in Nepal, India, Tibet and China. Hundreds of thousands of people are greatly affected, particularly in poor rural areas outside the city center. Damaged roads, landslides, and at-times heavy rains are limiting transportation, preventing search-and-rescue specialists as well as supplies of medicines, water, tents and other critical aid from reaching people in need. Images of the destruction are truly horrifying.

ATTENTION RUSSELL, FOR NGOs.

Photo: REUTERS/Navesh Chitraka, courtesy Trust.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With our long-standing commitment to disaster relief in the developing world, AJWS set up an Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund within hours of the earthquake. In response to Saturday’s tragedy, we are staying the course to address both immediate needs for earthquake survivors and invest in long-term recovery for the Nepalese people. Donations will support community-based organizations that are doing the following:

  • Providing food, shelter, emergency medical aid and supplies to the most vulnerable communities in Nepal—including ethnic minorities and indigenous communities—who are often neglected in the aftermath of crises.
  • Offering psycho-social support to survivors and their families.
Local villagers sit next to relief supply at Gorkha

Photo: REUTERS/Navesh Chitraka, courtesy Trust.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AJWS believes that community members are best placed to serve their own communities in times of need, and thus we will distribute funds through community-based groups led by and for these local communities. We will focus our efforts on helping to rebuild broken infrastructure, provide psychosocial support to survivors who have experienced tremendous trauma, and support communities to prepare for and protect themselves from future natural disasters of this magnitude.

People survey a site damaged by an earthquake, in Kathmandu

Photo: REUTERS/Navesh Chitraka, courtesy Trust.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding that poor and vulnerable communities are often disproportionately affected by disasters, AJWS will support vulnerable populations that are typically not reached by other funders and may be at greater risk of further trauma in the aftermath of the earthquake. These vulnerable groups include communities in remote regions, women, youth, LGBT people, Tibetan refugees, people with disabilities and the Dalit community. Dalits are the lowest caste of Nepal’s centuries-old caste system. Referred to as the “untouchables,” they are frequently ostracized, discriminated against, deprived of economic opportunities and blocked from using public services.

 

AJWS’s Grantees: First Responders

As of April 28, AJWS is providing immediate support and humanitarian relief to the following organizations in Nepal:

International Medical Corps (IMC): IMC has extensive experience in Nepal and in disaster relief, having served as a first responder after recent major earthquakes in Pakistan, Haiti and Japan. IMC is operating two Medical Mobile Units (MMUs) that treat approximately 200 people per day in Gorkha, Nepal, which is the epicenter of the earthquake. With an emergency grant from AJWS, IMC is providing survivors with immediate first aid and psychosocial support.

The Blue Diamond Society (BDS): The BDS was established in 2001 and works with local communities in Kathmandu to improve and promote the health of Nepal’s LGBT community. Today, the BDS is comprised of more than 200,000 LGBT members. In response to the earthquake, they are providing rescue, relief and rehabilitation support to HIV positive LGBT people affected by the disaster, but are struggling to provide sufficient care and support due to the lack of food and gas. With an emergency grant from AJWS, the BDS will provide the LGBT community with immediate medical support and relief.

Friends of Shanta Bhawan (FSB): FSB is a non-profit medical center located in a very poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Kathmandu that has been providing free or low cost medical care to some of Nepal’s poorest residents for the last 30 years.With an emergency grant from AJWS, Friends of Shanta Bhawan will offer free medical services, food and safe drinking water in a very impoverished community that was hit hard by the earthquake.

Himalayan Healthcare (HH): HH provides healthcare, education, and employment opportunities to disadvantaged communities in remote mountain villages, some of which are hundreds of kilometers from a paved road. In the aftermath of the earthquake most humanitarian efforts have been unable to access these regions, and so HH has been a vital lifeline. It is distributing about 4 tons of rice daily to prevent starvation and has mobilized a medical team of 10 health professionals to fly to remote areas to treat injured and sick survivors. With AJWS funding, the team will  meet the needs of four remote villages that were hard hit by the quake, distributing urgently needed food, tents and emergency care. Once the immediate needs are taken care of, HH will begin longer term recovery and reconstruction work.

Tewa, the Nepal Women’s Fund (Tewa): Tewa is a women’s rights organization based in Lalitpur, Kathmandu that works to empower rural women and promote justice and equality throughout Nepal. Tewa mobilized in response to the earthquake to provide pregnant mothers sheltering in the tent camps with food, water, medical care and blankets. With AJWS funding, Tewa will provide vitally needed maternity and postnatal care for pregnant mothers and their babies born during this disaster. They will also raise awareness in the camps about the risks of water-borne diseases and health epidemics that may arise and will teach earthquake survivors how to practice safe hygiene to help reduce the risks of these life-threatening illnesses.

 

To help earthquake survivors in Nepal recover and rebuild their lives, donate to our Earthquake Emergency Relief Fund here.

 

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Ebola From the Front Lines

Ebola from the front lines: AJWS’s Liberia consultant reflects on the crisis and AJWS’s work to stop it

Dayugar Johnson (“D.J.”), AJWS’s in-country consultant in Liberia

Dayugar Johnson (“D.J.”), AJWS’s in-country consultant in Liberia

Dayugar Johnson (“D.J.”), AJWS’s in-country consultant in Liberia, imposed a quarantine on his family soon after the Ebola epidemic struck their neighborhood in Monrovia last year. He was especially strict with his children.

“If you leave,” he warned them, “don’t return for 21 days!”

When they needed groceries, D.J. drove his wife to avoid taxis, which proved a dangerous virus transmission source. They only left the house dressed in long layers of clothing and armed with bottles of diluted chlorine to sanitize their hands. The kids couldn’t play with the neighbors, and hand-washing became ritualistic.

During the height of the epidemic, the road the Johnsons live on—normally teeming with traffic—was eerily quiet, except for the constant fleet of emergency vehicles headed to the nearby crematorium.

“On a daily basis,” D.J. told AJWS, “you heard the sirens going up and down carrying loads and loads of bodies. Death was everywhere. People died on the streets.”

At least 4,716 people, to be exact, have died of Ebola in Liberia since March 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been more than 26,000 cases in West Africa overall. Liberia’s last known victim of Ebola died on March 27. Barring the discovery of a new case, Liberian officials are prepared to declare the country Ebola-free on May 9, after conducting a 42-day countdown.

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AJWS on the ground

In two conference calls for AJWS supporters and interviews with AJWS, D.J. recently spoke about his work with AJWS grantees to stop the epidemic. He explained that 19 courageous organizations used AJWS funding to teach people in their communities how to implement the kinds of precautions that D.J. enforced on his family. Even as quarantine and travel bans restricted his work during the worst parts of the crisis, he continued to support grantees via phone and internet.

AJWS has worked in Liberia since 2003, and until Ebola hit, had provided more than $1.7 million in grants to advance human rights in the country.

When the Ebola crisis swelled last August, AJWS sent more than $763,000 in emergency aid to help its grantees lead public health campaigns; go door-to-door to educate communities about the virus; train religious leaders, women’s groups and media organizations to educate Liberians in their own languages; provide health care and psychosocial support to communities and work to stop stigma and discrimination against Ebola survivors; and collaborate with county health teams and task forces to ensure a coordinated response to the epidemic.

Ebola DEN-L organizing a community meeting to respond to questions on Ebola in Bong County

Grantee DEN-L organizing a community meeting to respond to questions on Ebola in Bong County

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the witchcraft myth

D.J. explained that Ebola spread rapidly in Liberia because many people didn’t take sufficient precautions. He says culture had a lot to do with that. “For Liberians, it’s difficult to greet you without shaking your hand,” D.J. said. “They will feel offended if you didn’t, especially elderly people.” The idea of quarantine is alien in this close-knit society.

Another deadly cause was mistrust and misinformation. The country’s civil war, which ended in 2003, left the population with an enduring mistrust of their government. For this reason, “A lot of people did not believe it [and] doubted it,” D.J. said of Ebola.

Many people thought news of the spreading disease was a cover-up for an impending invasion or civil war, a way for the government to embezzle money from the international community, or—because the devastation seemed so incomprehensible—witchcraft. Others saw the hazmat-clad international health workers as frightening foreign invaders.

As a result, many people eschewed health workers’ advice or took the sick to traditional healers, native doctors and spiritualists. And they didn’t heed instructions to stop the traditional practices of washing and dressing infected bodies before burial.

A trusted, grassroots response

In this climate of misinformation, mistrust and fear, D.J. says AJWS’s grantees were able to get messages through to people that outsiders could not. As trusted members of their communities, they went door-to-door and over the radio waves to convince people to take the life-saving precautions necessary to stop Ebola in its tracks.

Ebola DEN-L leading a community radio show  to raise awareness around Ebola prevention - Copy

Grantee DEN-L leading a community radio show to raise awareness around Ebola prevention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA)—which before the epidemic worked to increase women’s participation in local human rights movements—ran Ebola protection trainings for women in communities throughout Grand Bassa County, a hard-hit area. The main takeaways: Ebola is not a government ploy, and it can be prevented by hand-washing, steering clear of dead bodies and refraining from eating wild animal meat.

BAWODA also deployed religious leaders as a powerful vehicle for educating large numbers of people.

“Their congregations believed them,” D.J. said. “They trusted them. This did a lot in preventing a lot of the infections.”

Not just hygiene

AJWS grantees also helped with the medical response to Ebola and the ramifications of the health system collapse it caused. Before the outbreak, Liberia had just 50 doctors and one health worker for every 3,400 people, D.J. said. Ebola killed about 180 of those workers.

“Thousands more people have died of other things, like childbirth or malaria,” D.J. continued. “I saw pregnant women, children and elderly people left to die in wheelbarrows in front of clinics or hospitals.”

Imani House International, an organization that offers clinics and housing for women and girls throughout the country, appealed to AJWS when the crisis began overburdening hospitals. Imani renovated a clinic to provide Ebola-related triage and routine health care to people in desperate need. When two Imani staff members caught the virus and tragically died, the surviving staff persevered with their work even as they mourned.

“The Ebola virus came so close to home, and they were still able to have the courage to open the clinic and serve communities,” Mr. Johnson marveled. “[Others would] just close the clinic, pack up and go.”

Ebola Imani House staff--clinic near Monrovia that renovated part of its center to support Ebola quarantine and triage - Copy

Staff from AJWS grantee Imani House, a clinic near Monrovia that renovated part of its center to support Ebola quarantine and triage

 

In Gbarnga, the capital of hard-hit Bong County, AJWS began funding Development Education Network-Liberia (DEN-L), which took on the task of locating sick people who were hiding throughout the county to evade quarantine, to prevent them from infecting others.

“The fact that such prevention measures were coming from within the community,” Mr. Johnson said, “rather than from the government or Westerners, made the people more trusting that these difficult things were necessary.”

Den-L also established teams of 15-20 youth to patrol communities at night, because ineffective policing during the height of the crisis led to a spate of burglaries and other crimes.

Looking ahead

All of AJWS’s grantees are still doing Ebola work, now focusing on message reinforcement to combat complacency and bring the number of cases down to zero, as well as providing psychosocial support to those who were left behind. Getting orphans back to school and destigmatizing survivors prove particularly challenging.

“It completely devastated these communities and traumatized people,” Mr. Johnson said. AJWS is currently formalizing a new grant to an organization that will train groups in counseling.
As the crisis slows, AJWS’s grantees in Liberia are working to fill in the gaps left by an exhausted health system and give relief to communities affected by food insecurity issues that Ebola caused.

“Most farms were abandoned, either because of migration or death due to the outbreak,” he said. “A major challenge will be getting the systems—governance, health, and accountability—working again. Civil society will have a major stake.”

D.J. says the past year has reminded him why he wanted to work for AJWS in the first place.

“This crisis has kind of underscored the important work that AJWS is doing in Liberia and the importance of AJWS’s approach of having community organizations take the lead,” he said. “A lot of [other] donor organizations set criteria that a lot of grantees could not meet. When [those organizations] leave, they only leave signboards behind to show they were in those communities. With AJWS, the impact lasts after they leave the community.”

 

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His Survival, My Commitment: Honoring my father on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Monte Dube is a member of the AJWS Board of Trustees. He joined the board in June 2011.

It hurts me when people suffer in the world. It feels personal.

Heshy Dube, late father of Monte Dube

My late father, Heshy Dube, was just a teenager when he last saw his parents and his older brother before they perished in the Holocaust.

My dad survived the destruction of the Jewish community in his small Slovakian town. He suffered starvation in forced labor camps and concentration camps. He washed himself in snow to stay clean and avoid being infected with typhus. He even hid in a pile of dead bodies to escape being discovered and killed.

So, yes, when I read about genocides looming on the horizon or hear about the persecution of minorities, it feels personal.

That’s why I serve on the Board of AJWS and why I’m reflecting today on my very Jewish reasons for fighting injustice worldwide and supporting human rights for all.

Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am honoring my father’s memory by recommitting to do all in my power to stop tyranny and persecution. And I’m asking you to take a moment today to reflect on what this anniversary means to you and how you are engaged in changing the world.

After the genocide of the Jews of Europe, the world swore, “Never again.” The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to help keep that promise. But securing human rights takes work and time. And today, in places like Burma, Uganda and Sudan, people are suffering ethnic cleansing, hate crimes and the most profound kinds of degradation.

As the son of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, I am speaking up with AJWS for these people the world has forgotten. 

Whether they are working on behalf of minorities persecuted for their ethnicity, LGBT people hated because of whom they love, or women raped en masse as a tactic of war, AJWS’s 530 grantees in 19 countries around the world are rising up to exercise and defend their human rights. They demonstrate that when people organize and take action, they can overcome hatred and bigotry.

Hershe Dube, left, the father of Monte Dube, right

Heshy Dube, left, father of Monte Dube, right

So on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I honor my father—who resisted genocide through his survival and throughout his traumatized life in his own resolute and loving way—by sharing his story with you.

With AJWS, I have committed myself to doing all I can to ensure that the darkest chapter in the history of my family and our people does not repeat itself in the lives of others. And I thank all of AJWS’s supporters and community for your own ongoing dedication to working with AJWS to create a truly just world.


Dube-Monte-1293-195x230Monte Dube is an attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP, where he heads their Chicago-based health care department and counsels non-profit and for-profit health care companies worldwide on business and regulatory issues. He previously practiced law at McDermott Will & Emery. Monte has served as a board member of Aitz Hayim: the Center for Jewish Living and the Solomon Schechter Day Schools of Metropolitan Chicago. Monte is originally from New York, but has lived in Chicago for the last 30 years with his wife Lori raising their three children. Monte joined the AJWS board of trustees in June 2011.

 

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