Grassroots Girls Initiative: Empowering girls in West Bengal

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.

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Grassroots Girls Initiative: Fortress of Hope

This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative shares the voices of girls from Fortress of Hope Africa, an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The Situation for Girls

Growing up among rampant poverty, crime and few opportunities for employment, adolescents and young people make up a significant proportion of the populations in Nairobi’s slums. Girls are significantly more likely to be out of school than boys and are more at risk of violence.

The Organic Solution

In 2006, Fortress of Hope Africa was opened to provide a safe space within the slum to socially and economically empower disadvantaged girls, train them as leaders and support them in developing and implementing their own program ideas. The girls of Fortress are continuing to grow their own organic solutions that include a dance crew, street theater performances promoting gender equality and weekly workshops on self-esteem, health and hygiene and sexual and reproductive rights. Read More »

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Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

1st item video screengrab

Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

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At the White House with 30 Rabbis and Jewish Leaders

On Wednesday, I had the privilege to join a group of 30 rabbis and Jewish leaders from 13 states for a day of meetings at the White House to learn about the Obama administration’s strategy to end violence against women, girls and LGBT people worldwide.

AJWS's rabbinic delegation at the White House. Photo Credit: Mike Kandel

AJWS’s rabbinic delegation at the White House. Photo Credit: Mike Kandel

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Reflections on Mandela’s Legacy from Our Partners in Africa

mandelaLike millions of people around the globe, we are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, whose leadership as a peacemaker and human rights activist transformed our world.

Our partners in Africa have been writing to us to share their reflections on Mandela’s legacy. Here are a few: Read More »

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Welcoming Chanukah and My Daughter in Mumbai

This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series

Rabbi Steven Greenberg's partner, Steven Goldstein, with his daughter Amalia.

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 »

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

VAWToday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so I’ve been thinking about the lives of women and girls around the world.

Zeenat, a 17 year old girl from the impoverished community of Hyderabad, India, has already been married and divorced three times. All three of her marriages took place against her will, and all three husbands abused her.

Unfortunately, Zeenat’s experience is not uncommon in her community. Like many girls living in poverty in Hyderabad, Zeenat was forced to drop out of school and did not have any vocational skills. Her parents viewed marriage as a way to relieve a financial burden on their household.

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My Thanksgivukah Recipe

11.13_Thanksgivukah_Recipes_v1 (2)Lately, no matter where I am—conferences, meetings, board rooms—American Jews are buzzing about Thanksgivukah, the concurrent celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah on November 28, 2013.

These two holidays have overlapped only once before, in 1888. And, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, this Thanksgivukah miracle won’t happen again until 2070 and then again in 2165. After that, Chanukah and Thanksgiving aren’t set to coincide until 76,695!

Food and gratitude are at the center of my Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. So, it will come as no surprise that I’m eagerly awaiting the convergence of two culinary traditions.

So, as you prepare your own Thanksgivukah menu, I wanted to share my recipe for cranberry-lathered latkes—a mash-up of two signature dishes that will be front and center at my holiday table. Read More »

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Typhoon Haiyan Highlights the Need for a More Flexible Food Aid Response

For more than two years, American Jewish World Service has been working to improve the way the United States delivers life-saving food assistance to millions of hungry people worldwide. Thanks in part to the efforts of committed AJWS activists, AJWS and other allies were able to push forward incremental improvements to food aid programs in the Senate Farm Bill. A vote in the House of Representatives for even stronger reforms fell short by just nine votes.

The United States’ well-intentioned, but ill-advised food aid response in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti demonstrated that the U.S. food aid system was long over-due for a makeover. Typhoon Haiyan and the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis in the Philippines, has only added urgency to that fight. Read More »

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Crisis in the Philippines: AJWS provides Typhoon Haiyan relief

help_typhoon_survivorsWe’ve all been horrified and saddened by the images in the news since Typhoon Haiyan struck land on November 7 in the Philippines: flattened buildings, smashed boats and displaced people. Families digging through the wreckage of their homes and lives. Parents searching desperately for lost children. One of the most powerful typhoons to hit land in recorded history has left thousands dead and many more homeless and desperate.

In the midst of all this tragedy, AJWS supporters have turned to us to help. Our donors have contributed nearly $500,000 for typhoon survivors, and we have been working around the clock to get this critical funding to people who need it most. Read More »

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