This week, my AJWS Los Angeles Global Justice Fellowship cohort and I are preparing to depart for India to meet with local human rights activists working to overcome poverty and injustice in their own communities. I have been reminded these past few days (especially in the countdown to our departure from LAX) that I am experiencing a familiar feeling. It is so easy to get fixated on the packing list, the details of travel insurance, Malarone™ prescriptions and visa applications. Do I have the right clothes…my trusty travel pillow? …and where did my universal travel plug go?
And when I was traveling for work to the developing world it was even worse: do I have the in-country contact phone numbers, the materials for our field office, the conference freebees and photo consent cards, and all the necessary files and PowerPoints backed up on my computer in case rolling blackouts restrict my internet access?
This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative tells the story of Mohammad Bazar Backward Class Development Society (MBBCDS) and their efforts to end child marriage and empower marginalized women and girls. MBBCDS is an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in West Bengal, India.
The Situation for Girls
West Bengal is one of the poorest states in India and its tribal villages are labeled “economically backward.” Female literacy is extremely low; more than half of adolescent girls are either pulled out or drop out of the education system by high school. Girls in tribal villages are extremely vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.
This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s partner, Steven Goldstein, holding his daughter Amalia.
My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.
Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.
Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.
We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well. Read More
It’s hard to believe fall is here, and Rosh Hashanah has already come and gone.
Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member
As my thoughts turn to the Jewish New Year, I begin to think about all the exciting ways American Jewish World Service will continue to deepen its work in developing world. Here’s what we’re working toward this year: Read More
Posted in Giving, Human Rights, Jewish Justice
Tagged Advocacy, child marriage, human rights, India, Kendeda Fund, LGBTI Rights, new year, travel, women
This post is also featured on the blog of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
Marvin Goodman, far left, traveled with an AJWS rabbinic delegation to India.
This July, I traveled to Lucknow in northern India with American Jewish World Service and a group of 17 rabbis from across the United States. Our goal was to personally see and understand AJWS’s important international work. And, as I look back at the trip, we certainly accomplished that—but we also got a more powerful crash course in the profound disparities between the conditions and expectations for human rights in the U.S. versus the developing world. The experience was overwhelming, surprising, uplifting, depressing and eye-opening. Read More
Posted in Giving, Human Rights, Jewish Justice, Letters from the Field
Tagged caste, human rights, India, Poverty, rabbis, travel, violence, women
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently hosted Meena Seshu for a visit to our headquarters in New York City. Meena is the secretary general of SANGRAM, an AJWS grantee in India that educates and empowers sex workers to overcome their most challenging health and human rights issues.
While she was here, Meena stopped by The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. She talked with guest host and actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox television show “Raising Hope,” about SANGRAM’s efforts to help Indian sex workers curb violence and keep themselves safe from HIV.
Munija Khatun. Photo Credit: Lydia Holden
“My father says not to go to school, that I should be at home. ‘You are marriageable,’ he tells me,” sighs Munija Khatun, 15, as she mashes onions with a pestle for their dinner of fish stew. “My father has two families and takes responsibility for the first family, but not my family. Father comes one or two times a month and dominates the family. He asks why this or why that, why go to school?”
While Munija’s mother toils tirelessly to support her children’s education, her monthly income of 500 rupees ($9) from selling pop rice scarcely covers basic necessities, making the monthly 100 rupees ($1.2) government school fee for each child formidable. Munija helps her mother as much as she can, rising at 5 a.m. to wash the dishes, clean their brick and straw home and take care of the cow. After school, Munija finishes the day’s cleaning, helps her mother prepare dinner and studies for three hours by kerosene lamp. Even with all of her tenacity and hard work, Munija worries she will be married off to become another family’s property, a common occurrence in this remote West Bengal village; by eighth grade 80 percent of girls are pulled out of school for marriage. Read More
Celebrate the women and girls creating change worldwide!
Today is International Women’s Day—an important date on AJWS’s calendar! It doesn’t get a lot of fanfare here in the U.S. but it means a whole lot for women and girls around the world who are struggling against injustice.
In the communities AJWS supports, International Women’s Day is a day to honor brave women who are demanding equal rights and working to end poverty and oppression. It’s a day to celebrate determined girls who grow up to be leaders, against all odds. International Women’s Day is about empowering every young girl and every woman—no matter where she is born—to believe that she can make a difference.
To help AJWS spread this message, view our photo gallery on Facebook of extraordinary women and girls worldwide who are working to make the world a better place—and then share it with your friends! Read More
A community outreach team run by AJWS grantee, Fortress of Hope, teaches about gender-based violence. Photo: Evan Abramson
Last week on October 11th, the United Nations commemorated the very first International Day of the Girl. My colleagues and I were still reeling from the tragic shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist who was unjustly targeted for going to school and speaking up for her right to get an education. But we were grateful for the outpouring of support for the UN’s decision to dedicate a day to advancing the status of girls worldwide.
AJWS is committed to promoting girls’ rights, preventing gender-based violence and improving access to education and healthcare for girls in the developing world.
A few sobering facts:
- Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
- Child marriage is a threat to the fundamental human rights of girls, and to the health of communities.
- Ten million girls every year become child brides.
- One in seven girls in the developing world marries before she turns 15. These young girls are forced into motherhood before their bodies are ready, and too many die giving birth as a result.
- Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls give birth. They are two to five times as likely to die owing to pregnancy-related complications than women in their twenties, and their babies are less likely to survive. Read More