Brigit Grant reveals how one Jewish charity is making a world of difference 

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If the answer is 68,911, what is the question? Could it be the number of Arsenal fans waiting for season tickets? The cost of a new BMW series 7 630d M Sport? Or is it the amount of people World Jewish Relief helped last year?

Providing assistance in multiple ways to 68,911 individuals around the globe is too big a number to contemplate, particularly when the help is orchestrated from small premises in NW2. But addressing the needs of the vulnerable has been the objective of WJR since it was founded in 1933 to assist Jews fleeing Nazi oppression.

Back then it was known as the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF) and it supported 65,000 German and Austrian adult refugees and 10,000 children arriving in the UK. Today under a new acronym, the objectives of this Jewish humanitarian agency remain the same – to offer assistance on a practical and emotional level to those affected by poverty, discrimination and international disasters.

PRIORITIES

What the WJR does on a day-to-day basis is impossible to encapsulate in one article – it operates in 20 countries, each with its own unique problems, while simultaneously responding to international crises as they happen. Right now Syrian refugees are high on the WJR agenda and its September appeal, which raised £820,000, has paid for back-to-school kits for 2,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkish schools; 3,000 winter kits (coats, boots, clothes, sleeping bags) and basic shelter and food for 1,500 refugees in Greece’s Aegean Islands. Along with improving access to healthcare for refugees in northern Greece, WJR has also developed a new employment programme to help 1,000 Syrians learn the language and integrate into British life over the next five years.

Supported by private donors, it is a programme informed by the charity’s experience in the former Soviet Union, where it helped 15,000 people to train for the workplace and, as the government does not currently have an employment programme, it has welcomed the WJR initiative.

For most organisations, working with Syrian refugees would be more than enough to contend with, but it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg for WJR. One only has to look at the number of beneficiaries in 20 countries during the period 2014 – 2015: Belarus 1,467, Bulgaria 215, Estonia 60, Georgia 682, Hungary 89, India 713, Kazakhstan 9, Latvia 34, Lithuania 16, Moldova 2,083, Nepal 7,655, Philippines 10,230, Poland 540, Romania 58, Russia 872, Rwanda 1,121, Serbia 51, Sierra Leone 3,406, Ukraine 38,976, United Kingdom 634.

After more than 80 years in the rescue business, WJR knows how to assess the damage and where to apply its expertise. This is what it has been doing in the following countries:

Eastern Europe

This part of the world has been the focus of WJR’s attention for many years, as the older Jewish people are among the most discriminated, with many facing persecution stretching back to the Nazis and the Cold War. The aim is to ensure that those needing immediate support – food, housing, warmth – are cared for, while bringing the elderly together to help forge a sense of community.

Ukraine

In the past year, 2.2 million people, including thousands of Jews, have fled their homes because of the conflict in east Ukraine, which has resulted in 6,400 deaths. Economic and political uncertainty, along with the hiked prices of food, gas and electricity, has devastated the population, and a fragile ceasefire has done little to ease living conditions. WJR programmes supported 15,816 people, some of whom still receive multiple services, ranging from the provision of coal, wood, blankets, shoes, payment of utility bills and window repairs to evacuating 80 people from Mariupol when the fighting escalated.

With food and hygiene kits distributed to 1,790 vulnerable people in the conflict zone and livelihood development classes given to 869 internally displaced citizens who escaped to new towns, WJR is integral to the survival of many Ukranians. Undeterred, the charity has also defiantly organised much-needed respite from the conflict with “home gatherings” that bring people together and these have continued during bombings.

Spotlight: Vitaliy Kartamyshev, director of World Jewish Relief Ukraine

Vitaly

Vitaly Kartamyshev

What is it like to live in Ukraine?
“The country is a huge and sometimes ruthless social experiment. More often, what people say will happen is quite the opposite of what happens in reality. The country is in deep economic crisis, unemployment is very high, wages are lower than the subsistence minimum, so many residents have barely enough to buy food after paying their utility bills.”

How are you are making a difference?
“By delivering much-needed humanitarian relief to people affected by the conflict and poverty
in eastern Ukraine. We work primarily with Jewish people, but others too, providing shelter and other types of non-food assistance. I can vividly remember delivering food aid (canned food, buckwheat, rice, sunflower oil, pasta, salt, sugar, tea, etc.) to an elderly disabled lady in a village called Kamyshnoe.

“The lady, obviously forgotten by everybody, even her children, lived in isolation in the buffer zone between Ukraine and the so-called ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ (in eastern Ukraine). Their village was bombed on several occasions a year ago. Food, fuel and other items necessary for survival are scarce. When she saw us coming with all the food aid, she burst out crying. Life must be very harsh for this lady.

“The package will last her about a month. She told us that if it were not for us, she would barely have any food.”

Georgia
WJR supports the elderly in Georgia by contributing homecare workers, medicines, heating and the WJR bank card scheme preloaded with money, which gives the card holder the freedom to choose where they shop or buy medicine. Many could not afford to do this on their pensions.

Belarus
Here, the emotional well-being programmes support older people, mainly those living alone without close family ties. Tackling loneliness and isolation is the goal and dozens of younger people have been actively involved this year in Belarus, helping hundreds of older people live liveswith more dignity. WJR organised eye tests, glasses, eye surgeries and hearing aids for hundreds of older people, all of which is critical to their well-being.

Moldova
Repairing the homes of the elderly is a programme that has been running for four years in Moldova. In a survey on the project done in Kishinev, 37 percent felt comfortable and dignified in their homes before WJR repaired them, compared to the 93 percent who felt that way afterwards.

Spotlight: Masya Haimovna, 76 is a Holocaust survivor living in Rybnitsa, Moldova, who was forced to live in incredibly difficult conditions. Her meagre income and poor health meant there was little money left for food, let alone repairs. Window frames were falling away, floors were cracked, there was no running water and damp and fungus corroded the walls.

Through WJR’s Home Repairs Programme, critical changes were made to Masya’s home, including the renovation of her kitchen and electrical wiring. The flat is now unrecognisable and Masya’s life has completely changed, as she said herself: “I could not even dream about such a gift! Now I want to live… as they say – until 120!”

Sierra Leone
Following the Ebola outbreak in 2014 WJR, together with Street Child of Sierra Leone, supported children orphaned by Ebola and their foster families. The charity’s first grants provided 2,078 children across five locations with food and other basic items. When the crisis began to subside, WJR supported 360 children without parents to return to school, gave food grants to 350 families so they could focus their energies on restarting their business and launched an Ebola education and prevention programme, using teachers forced out of work by closed schools. These 968 educators across 25 chiefdoms reached an estimated 242,000 people.

Nepal

WJR held a successful Nepal Earthquake appeal

WJR held a successful Nepal Earthquake appeal

In April last year, Nepal was hit by a catastrophic earthquake, which claimed the lives of more than 9,000 people. Thousands were injured and more than half a million homes were destroyed.
WJR was among the first international development agencies to respond and it provided emergency food to 210 households and shelter support to 1,531.

Deploying a staff member to an unfolding emergency for the first time allowed WJR to form strategic partnerships with local organisations and it targeted the most hard-to-reach communities that were not supported by otheraid agencies or governments. This emergency relief phase helped to establish WJR’s reputation as an organisation able to respond rapidly and efficiently and, as its programmes shift from emergency relief to recovery, it is examining agricultural industries and vocational opportunities in order to help the people increase their incomes and fund self-recovery.

Spotlight: Mike Rosenkrantz, WJR’s Nepal programme manager

What is it like to live in Nepal?
“I’ve lived here since June 2012 and I thoroughly enjoy living in a very different environment from where I grew up in the United States. It is very challenging, especially given the partial border closure with India, which has lasted at least five months with no end in sight as this has resulted in long lines for petrol, diesel, limited cooking gas and rising food prices. Instead of taking buses, I’ve shifted to riding my bicycle, sometimes 16 miles a day from one of the NGOs that we are working with to another. There are also no hot showers, but you adapt and, for me, there is something about the diversity of living in another culture that really draws me in, no matter the challenges.”

How are you making a difference?
“The charity takes a business-based approach to recovery efforts. It’s not only about providing formal skills trainings and business inputs, such as seeds or plastics for tunnels for growing tomatoes. It’s also about helping households to get product to larger markets so that they will increase their income to rebuild their homes demolished by the earthquake, and have greater access to educational opportunities for their children and better healthcare. I feel very privileged to be facilitating these efforts.”

Children in a temporary shelter at Taclabon.

Children in a temporary shelter at Taclabon, Philippines.

Philippines
Typhoon Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, devastating parts of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines in November 2013. WJR’s emergency appeal initially provided relief following the devastation and is now at the rebuilding phase. Working with partners to support the country’s redevelopment, it has provided thousands of metres of fishing lines for producing edible seaweed, distributed a further 130 boats, farm implements and even 51 carabao (water buffalo). All of this support has enabled 10,230 diverse people in island communities to rebuild.

Rwanda
Supporting communities with a shared history of genocide is at the heart of WJR’s philosophy, hence Rwanda, where around one million people were murdered in 1994 and where they are now helping young orphaned farmers to learn innovative farming techniques that are also supported by Comic Relief. WJR has empowered 903 young people to increase their income and support their families.