From the Ground Up is a campaign of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to help end global hunger. AJWS created this campaign because too many people are unnecessarily dying of hunger each day and because, as Jews, we can’t accept a world that’s so needlessly broken. Global hunger seems like a huge, unsolvable problem. It’s big in scope, but it’s also eminently fixable and AJWS’s approach makes it manageable. With your help, AJWS can enable people in the developing world to use the ground beneath their feet to grow and distribute food locally and provide the American Jewish community with the tools to educate and advocate to bring an end to global hunger – in our lifetime.
AJWS supports dozens of projects in 36 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin and Central America that are promoting hunger-alleviating local agriculture. These innovative programs are teaching methods of sustainable farming, protecting land from degradation, securing access to water and high-quality seeds and ensuring that small-scale farmers have the means to store, market and sell their harvests profitably. They are also empowering farmers to advocate for their land and water rights and defend their land from development and exploitation, so that fertile soil can again be used for food. These strategies save lives. It is estimated that widespread support and implementation of sustainable agricultural methods in the developing world could increase current food production by 180%.
The founders’ vision of global tzedakah has borne abundant fruit, as AJWS has become both a leading international donor and an important institution within the Jewish community. AJWS is currently:
• Providing financial assistance to over 450 non-governmental organizations in 36 countries; grantmaking is the core of our work, constituting nearly 60% of all AJWS expenditures;
• Providing volunteer service opportunities for hundreds of American Jewish students and professionals per year, plus additional activities for volunteer alumni;
• Creating imaginative educational materials that link Jewish texts, values and traditions to contemporary global needs; and
• Mobilizing the Jewish community, in particular, and Americans more generally, to take action on behalf of concerns ranging from the genocide in Darfur to foreign assistance reform.
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice. AJWS is dedicated to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease among the people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS fosters civil society, sustainable development and human rights for all people, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship within the Jewish community.
AJWS's grantmaking philosophy is drawn from the teaching of Maimonides, a famous Jewish philosopher and Rabbi: we believe in the power of grassroots communities to bring about the changes they wish to see in the world. Despite poverty, disease and political conflict, and without waiting for governments to act, we have found that grassroots activists through the developing world have created thousands of community-based organizations to transform their lives and societies. It is these indigenous groups to which AJWS gives highest priority--in the belief that is it they who are best-positioned to envision, articulate and implement plans for improving their own communities. It is our goal to achieve meaningful social change in the developing world; through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, we support our grantees' powerful efforts of tikkun olam.
Unlike many organizations involved in fighting hunger, AJWS generally doesn’t provide food donations. While this might appear to be a good short-term solution – and we do give food relief during times of disaster, such as the 2004 tsunami or the cyclone in Burma in spring 2008 – it’s an ineffective way to end global hunger and, in some ways, actually perpetuates it.
AJWS’s philosophy is predicated on the highest rung of Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, which is designed to make the recipient self-sufficient. Or drawing on other traditions, our approach is aligned with the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Of course, it’s not just about men and it’s not just about fishing, but people want to be able to feed themselves and need to do so if they have any hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty and oppression that leads to hunger, generation after generation.
For this reason, AJWS supports more than 80 projects in Africa, Asia and Latin and Central America that are fighting hunger themselves – from the ground up.
Kenya—a country of nearly 35 million people—presently produces less than 50% of the food that its population needs to survive. Without a strong local agricultural economy, Kenya's people are at the mercy of international market prices for food, and when prices rise, the poor go hungry. A grassroots non-governmental organization supported by AJWS called Kilili Self-Help Project (KSHP) is working to reverse this problem, reducing Kenyans' dependency on imported foreign crops by promoting local, sustainable farming that helps communities feed themselves. In 2008, with AJWS's support, KSHP trained and monitored more than 2,000 farmers—half of whom were women—in the use of simple, nature-based techniques like composting and organic pest control. The average cost of training a Kenyan farmer to use these techniques is only $3.50. These methods have enabled them to turn exhausted land into fertile food-producing ventures. KSHP also helped its members launch a commercial business producing nutritious porridge to prevent malnutrition and fortify the immune system against diseases like AIDS. Through this and other projects, KSHP has enabled farmers to become self-sufficient, feed their families nutritiously, improve family health and raise the standard of living for the entire community. Below are the voices of local farmers in Kenya that work with KSHP:
"I was idle and jobless. The only piece of land I had, I thought it was useless. But now, after putting the training to use, I see that it can be profitable. My life will never be the same again: I am now a farmer on my own land." —Patrick Mwangi, farmer
"It was nice to note the family of 8 can live on a small piece of land. I noted that it is possible to get 16 bags of maize from an area of 900 square feet. Normally this is produced on an acre on most farms in Kenya. I am planning to replicate what I saw in my rural village in Nyanza." —Douglas Aringo, farmer
AJWS provides unique opportunities to learn, work, serve and travel in Africa, Asia and the Americas. By partnering with grassroots community-based organizations, volunteers experience firsthand the power of local people effecting change.
AJWS youth volunteer service programs focus on building collaborative relationships between Jewish volunteers and NGOs in developing countries through group service experiences. All AJWS service programs draw on Judaism’s religious and cultural traditions to provide guidance regarding the responsibility to pursue global justice. By integrating service with text study and dialogue about the Jewish values that inform this work, participants return committed and passionate about their role as global citizens in creating a more just world. For more information, please visit http://ajws.org/what_we_do/service_and_travel_opportunities/volunteer_summer/.
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