Imbued with Jewish values of charity and hope for a better world, young Jewish students are arriving at communities in distress around the globe to give them the tools to help themselves in the future.
The Jewish Agency for Israel has started recruiting some 1,000 young people from Israel and around the world to volunteer in distressed communities in Africa, South America, and Israel,
Titled Project “Ten” [Give in Hebrew], Jewish students from Israel and abroad volunteer to provide aid in development areas in Israel and in developing countries around the globe. The program is currently providing support to the local population in four areas: Ethiopia, Ghana, Mexico and Israel.
A launch event was hosted by Israeli Consul General in New York Ido Aharoni earlier this month and was attended by dozens of Jewish community leaders, diplomats, philanthropists, Jewish Agency representatives, and former participants in the program.
Participating Jewish students from the New York area shared their personal volunteer experience, which they described as the two most significant months in their lives.
Jewish Values Actualized Around the Globe
Billed as “the Jewish Peace Corps,” Project TEN was created by The Jewish Agency three years ago and offers young people from Israel and around the world the opportunity to live together in distressed communities and realize the Jewish values of Tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) by helping empower local residents.
Each participant receives a tailor-made volunteer program of several weeks or months in length, depending on their availability and preferences. Together, participants volunteer in educational, agricultural, and health-related initiatives, working together with local organizations and Jewish groups active in the area.
The ultimate goal is to develop local residents’ leadership skills and empower them to create models for sustainable development well after the volunteers return to their home countries.
The volunteers themselves return to their communities with a greater drive to engage in local activism and become involved in Jewish life.
In recent weeks, hundreds of students at top American universities have participated in on-campus information sessions hosted by Project TEN in order to familiarize them with volunteer opportunities at the three international centers currently operating in Winneba, Ghana; Gondar, Ethiopia; and Oaxaca, Mexico. The volunteers may also choose to serve at the two Israeli centers in the southern city of Arad and Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel, where they will run programs to empower Bedouin youth, new immigrants, at-risk teens, and individuals with special needs.
In Ghana, Project TEN volunteers serve in the fishing town of Winneba, where they work with local residents and the fishermen’s children. They run an educational center in which local children receive enrichment classes in a range of subjects and a mobile computer lab that provides digital knowledge to students whose prior exposure to computers was limited to sketches of keyboards on paper. The volunteers also work in the fishing village of Akosua, which maintains some of the world’s most ancient fishing practices, teaching local children in a coconut hut.
In Mexico, volunteers serve in Oaxaca, where a series of natural disasters have prompted the creation of a Project TEN center to help local residents improve their preparedness and raise their standard of living. The center is run in partnership with the Mexican Jewish organization CADENA, which specializes in serving communities struck by national disasters. The volunteers work in dozens of far-flung, isolated communities spread across the vast, mountainous region.
Project TEN Director Yarden Zornberg notes that two additional volunteer centers are set to open in the coming year. One will be hosted by the Jewish community of Durban, South Africa, where volunteers will work with local tribespeople, and the other will be located in Cusco, Peru, offering backpackers the opportunity to combine their treks with volunteerism. According to Zornberg, more than one thousand volunteers are expected to serve in all seven Project TEN centers, engaging in activism over extended periods and realizing core Jewish values in the process.