Tomorrow I’ll be traveling, along with 25 other JRC members, on our congregation’s second service trip to Africa. I am immensely proud of JRC for organizing this effort, which reflects our deep and growing commitment to global service work in general and to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic in particular.
From July 7- 15 we will be in Rwanda hosted by WE-ACTx, an important Kigali-based NGO that seeks to increase women’s and children’s access to HIV testing, care, treatment, education and care at the grassroots level. In particular, WE-ACTx has done inspirational work in helping survivors of genocidal rape and violence, focusing its efforts on empowering HIV-postive women and girls to take charge of their lives and become leaders in the fight against AIDS.
Our trip was inspired in large part through our congregation’s relationship with Dr. Mardge Cohen (above), a woman’s care specialist who worked for many years at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago and is one of the primary founders of WE-ACTx. Mardge is a longtime friend of JRC and was pivotal in helping us make the connection to Rwandan efforts to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We have learned a great deal from Mardge over the years and are thrilled that we will now have the opportunity to bear witness to her work. (Here’s a great, extensive Chicago Tribune article about Mardge and her efforts in Rwanda).
In addition to volunteering at the clinic in a variety of capacities, we will observe the work being done in Rwanda to heal from the very deep wounds of the 1994 genocide and learn about the ways in which Rwandan society continues to work to overcome tribal differences to create a viable future for their people.
From July 15-23, we will be in Uganda, visiting old friends we made from JRC’s last service trip in 2005. Our home base will be the town of Mbale and we will be volunteering once again with the Federation for the Development of Needy Communities – an NGO devoted to the sustainable development of communities in and around the rural area of Natandome. We will also visit the Mirembe Kowamera Jewish/Muslim/Christian Fair Trade Coffee Co-op with which JRC has partnered for many years. (We are hoping to be able to participate ourselves in the upcoming coffee harvest). Our itinerary will also include a Shabbat visit to the Abayudayah Ugandan Jewish community, with whom we also had the pleasure of visiting three years ago.
Among the many things that will make this trip so special is the significant participation of JRC’s young people (including my son Jonah). I am especially happy that they will have dedicated time to spend with young Rwandans (focusing, inevitably enough, on computer skills). All in all, it promises to be a memorable and powerful July. I plan to blog about our experiences as they occur so please plan to drop in and visit regularly over the next few weeks…
Even though I can’t participate, I am immensely proud to be part of a congregation that sees that there are no boundaries limiting our concern for other human beings. It’s a new idea to me, that a Jewish congregation does meritorious acts beyond our own community but your (plural) work demonstrates what Judaism really means.