Tag Archives: land rights

Powers of Ten: Reflections from an AJWS Global Justice Fellow

David Lieberman is a member of AJWS’s Los Angeles Global Justice Fellowship cohort. The Global Justice Fellowship is a year-long program designed to inspire, educate and train key opinion leaders in the American Jewish community to become activist leaders in support of global justice. David wrote this reflection at the end of his trip with the Global Justice Fellows to India, where they learned from grassroots activists working to overcome poverty and injustice in their own communities.


The AJWS LA Global Justice Fellows visited AJWS grantee SAATHI in India, which provides access to healthcare, education and employment services for India’s marginalized communities.


There is a short educational film called Powers of Ten, which starts with an overhead view of a couple having a picnic in a park. One square meter is outlined in the center of the screen. In the upper right hand corner is an indicator reading one square meter.

The camera zooms out and ten square meters are outlined. The indicator reads 10 square meters. The camera continues to zoom out by powers of 10 until our galaxy is speck in a sky full of galaxies and the indicator reflects the area in powers of 10.

The camera reverses and zooms in to the original one square meter, then zooms in further to powers of -10 focusing on the hand of the male picnicker, and continues to zoom internally down to the cellular level, the atomic level and the nuclear level.

I think that’s exactly what we’re doing when we work with AJWS.  Every effort we put forth is multiplied by powers of 10 through AJWS’s support of more than 500 social change organizations around the world, striving to overcome poverty and oppression in their own communities.

Powers of 10.

And each organization has its own networks. We met some of them on this trip. And each organization in their network multiplies their efforts  through their community organizers, and  each community organizer’s efforts are multiplied throughout their communities.

Powers of 10.

And I look around at our group. Each of our individual efforts are again multiplied as we work together.

Powers of 10.

When we work to transform social conditions, we bring about a change in ourselves. I noticed it in myself this week. For one example, when we checked into our hotel in Kolkata, India, I wondered how many people on the street were displaced by the building of our hotel.  I wondered this after seeing what I’ve seen on this trip, after our meeting with AJWS grantee Kislay, which works to promote the rights of urban poor communities in slum areas of New Delhi. I learned the following morning that although the hotel was renovated recently, the structure has been there for 150 years, so nobody on the street today was displaced by the building of the hotel.  But my thinking to ask the question was a change in me; the awareness was a change in me.


The AJWS LA Global Justice Fellows visited AJWS grantee Kislay, which works to promote the rights of urban poor communities in slum areas of New Delhi, India.
















As we marked the end of Shabbat, a Global Justice Fellow mentioned that the blessing over the wine is about transformation; grapes into grape juice, grape juice into wine, and the human effort it takes to do so.

So, I ask each of the Global Justice Fellows to think about our trip—what you’ve done, what you’ve seen—and let’s use that to continue driving forward to transform social conditions for those who face poverty and injustice around the world. And when we work outwardly to transform social conditions, we transform ourselves internally by powers of 10.

Lieberman, DavidDavid Lieberman, an AJWS-LA Global Justice Fellow, works in the corporate security field for a global biomedical company.

The AJWS Global Justice Fellowship is a selective, year-long program designed to inspire, educate and train key opinion leaders in the American Jewish community to become activist leaders in support of global justice. Learn more about the Global Justice Fellowship

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Letter from Goma: Living through the Congolese conflict

Last week, conflict ramped up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Congolese rebel group M23 and the Congolese Armed Forces escalated fighting. At least 800,000 people have fled their homes in the DRC since the M23 launched its rebellion in April 2012 and laid siege to the city of Goma last December. In response, the United Nations has launched an intervention brigade with the strongest mandate in UN peacekeeping history.

However, civilians in North Kivu have begun protesting the intervention brigade, arguing that the UN has not done enough to protect civilians. This week, forces from DRC dropped bombs in Rwanda, creating a complex and controversial political situation. Rwanda has allegedly supported the M23 rebels and is now threatening retaliation. According to an AJWS consultant, the current situation is very unpredictable.

This post comes to Global Voices from Nelly Godelive Mbangu, who lives in Goma.

Read More »

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Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua

Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin

Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin

American Jewish World Service has worked in Nicaragua for 14 years, focusing on two of the most pressing challenges facing some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country:

  • The struggle for land, food, water and resources needed for the survival of indigenous people
  • Human rights violations against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

This week, a group of AJWS supporters will travel to Nicaragua to engage with nine of our grantee organizations. They’ll meet with staff members who are mobilizing their communities to make long-lasting change.

Our grantees take on critical rights issues in Nicaragua—like Coordinadora Chorotega, which trains local leaders to take legal action against the government’s sale of indigenous land. There’s also Grupo Safo, which recently opened the first health clinic in Nicaragua specifically for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.

Want to learn more? Check out Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua, a new review of AJWS’s work in the country.

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Why We Must Fight for Land Rights in Thailand

On November 19, 2012 at 7:00 AM, two villagers from Khlong Sai Phatthana in Surat Thani province in southern Thailand were shot and killed less than 800 meters from their homes. They were on a motorcycle en route to their local open-air market to sell the vegetables they had farmed on their land that week. After shots were fired, the daughter of one of the women and a neighbor ran out to find two women shot dead. Later the villagers and police found shell cases from M16 and HK rifles. The women were small-scale farmers and had moved from other provinces in the South to farm a small plot of land in Khlong Sai Phatthana. They had no known enemies. So why were these women senselessly killed?

Because of land. Read More »

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“India is Great” But is it Sustainable? A Call for Environmental Democracy at Rio+20

Annual meeting of women’s cooperatives near Jaipur, India (Photo: Alisa Zomer)

Boldly painted on the sides and rears of many TATA trucks and tractors are the words “INDIA IS GREAT.” Alongside an open lotus flower, symbolizing purity, these words hold true on a number of levels.

First, India is great in terms of the country’s size and diversity of natural resources. India is the world’s largest democracy, has one of the fastest growing economies, and is home to over one-seventh of the world’s population. India is also great in terms of its rich history and culture, as well as the country’s current position as a leader in world politics, especially in the Global South. Read More »

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Bolivia Passes the Law of Mother Earth!

Today is Earth Day and something ground-breaking just happened in Bolivia. The country passed the Law of Mother Earth, the world’s first piece of legislation that gives the natural world rights that are equal to those of humans. Bolivia has long suffered from serious environmental problems from the mining of tin, silver, gold and other raw materials. Farmers have also had land and crops decimated by multinational corporations. Existing laws to protect natural resources were not strong enough.

The Law of Mother Earth includes the following:

  • The right to maintain the integrity of life and natural processes
  • The right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered
  • The right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration
  • The right to pure water
  • The right to clean air
  • The right to balance, to be at equilibrium
  • The right to be free of toxic and radioactive pollution
  • The right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect The balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities

The law also promotes “harmony” and “peace” and “the elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological” weapons.

Read on.

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Catching Up in Cambodia with Thida Yan

I recently caught up with Thida Yan, AJWS’s in-country consultant in Cambodia, to learn about what’s happening on the ground. Here’s what Thida had to share:


How many grantees does AJWS have in Cambodia?

We have fourteen grantees.

What are some of the themes we focus on in Cambodia?

We focus on land rights, domestic violence and human rights. The Worker Information Center, one of our grantees, works on garment factory workers’ rights. It has a center for workers where they can go to learn about the law. The Cambodian Women’s Movement Organization also works to promote women’s rights. It promotes leadership among garment factory workers. CWMO set up a women’s committee in the workplace for women to discuss problems. Garment factory workers usually come from far away and stay together in the city in an apartment they rent. Their rooms are small and they lack food because of their wages. Their health condition is not good. Sometimes they don’t understand about reproductive health, and sometimes their boyfriends are violent. The Cambodian Women’s Movement Organization provides training about leadership and critical thinking skills so the women can be leaders in their unions. Usually only men are leaders of the unions but we recently had a woman who became a union leader.

In July, I went to Kampong Cham for a public forum on land advocacy. There are problems related to public land. Some people say they have their own land that they’ve been on for more than 10 years but don’t have a land title. They want to plant vegetables or trees on their land, but they don’t feel secure because the government can take it any time; [the government] says people are on public land.

Can you tell me about the recent strike of garment factory workers in Cambodia?

They organized about 200,000 workers to get better conditions for their work and more salary. This was continued from another strike in August. They want $93 per month [Ed. Note: they currently make $61 per month.] Workers send about forty percent of their earnings back to their families. So in the strike they would like to request that the government put pressure on the employers to provide more salary.

What do you think are the most important issues right now in Cambodia?

Land issues and youth issues, because in Cambodia youth is dominant. [Ed. Note: over half of the population is under the age of 25.] There are other problems like unemployment, and people living in fear. There are many gangs, now not just in the towns but also in the countryside.

Why do you think there has been an increase in violence among youth?

In my opinion, because of low education and the influence of media. Cambodia doesn’t have intellectual property laws, so people just copy discs; they are easy to distribute. People don’t like to see the news but would like to buy a CD or DVD player, and it is cheap. Poverty is one of the root causes of violence: when people are poor, children don’t go to school and it’s easy for them to be influenced by their friends. Many reports say that girls in the lower grades, like eighth or ninth grade, are sex workers. They don’t have money, they have to sell sex. It’s not only the case for poor girls. Sometimes the rich families, they don’t care. The family relationship is low, so girls feel like they are isolated. So they are easily influenced by their friends.

Could you tell me about a success story?

We have a success story about migration. Our partners try to inform communities about migration. They train about safe migration; how to find out information about the company [that they would work for in another country]. We take information to communities about girls going to Malaysia and getting psychological problems [from abuse], for example, and some decide not to send their young women.

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