Israeli volunteer in Ghana (Project TEN/Courtesy)

Volunteers from Israel and the Diaspora unite in an effort to improve the world through education and teaching life skills in disadvantaged communities.

By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler

Thousands of Jewish volunteers, mostly from Israel, are using their post-army or post-high school time to help underdeveloped countries by participating in a program called Project TEN, run by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“The volunteers promote social resilience through educational programs,” Jesica Scheimberg, director of Project TEN in Ghana, told United with Israel (UWI). “We form partnerships with locals in order to provide training and guidance to empower them to continue the work we start.”

Scheimberg, who was born in Argentina and lives in Israel, explained that the program’s integrated curriculum is based on building community and on Jewish values, particularly Tikkun Olam – Hebrew for ‘repairing the world.’

“The Jewish Agency developed the program to unify Israelis and Jews from around the world in order to use Jewish values to improve the world and deepen their Jewish identity,” she said.

The name of the program, TEN, is an acronym for “Tikkun Empowerment Network,” and TEN, in Hebrew, means “give.”

“As Jews, we respect cultural traditions and the importance of community,” Scheimberg said. “We work together to present different approaches to life and build a sense of group togetherness. As life in Africa is challenging, we encourage them to persist in trying times to maintain their identity and preserve their traditions, just as Jews have done from time immemorial.”

Volunteers provide a full school curriculum as well as promoting public health, sustainable agriculture – participants learn about advanced irrigation systems, greenhouse techniques, composting, recycling and environmental protection – and co-existence with local communities. Though their activities are geared toward youth, they also build relationships with parents, teachers and key figures in the community who will continue their educational efforts.

In exchange, the volunteers gain leadership skills and a deep sense of satisfaction from their hands-on experience in education and social work.

Talia Bruckhaimer, 21, volunteered in Ghana after completing her IDF service. Though set to work until April, she was whisked back to Israel in March due to the coronavirus.

“I developed learning games for the children and ran Books & Things, the educational center similar to a community or learning center, where youth from the community acquire tools and skills,” she told UWI. “I volunteered to add value to my life, and I learned that when you give, you get back a lot.”

Bruckhaimer said it was an Ethiopian soldier, with whom she served in the IDF, who inspired her to volunteer.

“He said it would be much more meaningful to volunteer and help others than travel after completing my army service, as Israelis commonly do,” she said. “This soldier fondly remembered an Israeli volunteer who came to teach Hebrew in Ethiopia before he arrived in Israel. The volunteer helped him so much, and I wanted to have a similar influence.”

Project TEN enriches the lives of underprivileged children in Uganda, Mexico, Ghana, Greece, South Africa, Cambodia and Israel, and may expand to other countries in need.

“Through Project TEN, young people come together for a common good – for a project larger than themselves, which enables them to hone their leadership skills, develop and establish personal and collective identity, and set in place sustainable programs that address local needs,” said Isaac Herzog, chairman of The Jewish Agency.