by Abigail Pickus
Tegest Heruy Belayneh turned to her colleagues from across the globe who had gathered in Jerusalem for the First International Women’s Leadership Workshop sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
“Suddenly, I don’t feel so alone any more because we’re all doing this together,” said the Senior Director of the Clinic, Pharmacy, Cafeteria and Girls’ Education program at Unity University in Ethiopia. “That is what is so fascinating about this meeting: We are women from different corners of world, but the moment we met we shared something in common. We are all doing something to better the world.”
Belayneh is one of six leading female civil society leaders from Haiti, the U.S., Sri Lanka, India, and Ethiopia who met in Israel on December 4, 2011 for a five-day workshop to gain educational, networking, and professional development in disaster relief and global development. In addition to peer learning, the participants were taken on JDC site visits tailored to their specific interests in children’s welfare, healthcare, disabilities, education and employment.
While the participants had not met each other before they attended the workshop, each woman had worked in various capacities in her native country with JDC, whose footprint extends to more than 70 countries and Israel.
Judy Amit, Global Director of JDC’s International Development Program and Regional Director for Africa and Asia – who has worked in India and Sri Lanka – said the workshop is the first of its kind.
“Nothing like this exists. There is no peer group for women on the senior level to come and share our experiences not only professionally, but as women because so much of social change comes about through women. We see this throughout the world,” she said.
“Here JDC has worked with all these amazing women around the world and have formed a partnerships with them but they didn’t know each other. Through this workshop we’ve all become close friends on a personal level and on a professional level are really learning and growing from one another. There is tremendous power here.”
Participant Maryse Penette Kedar, President of the ProDev (Progress and Development) Foundation in Haiti, began working with JDC after the earthquake in 2010 when JDC partnered with organizations on the ground to open 10 schools in the ‘Tent cities’ assembled for displaced persons in Port-au-Prince.
“Most of the schools in the metropolitan area were destroyed. We already have a high percentage of poor people and the poorer you are, the less access you have to education,” said Kedar. “We, Haitians, are extremely touched by the Jewish response to the earthquake. And the JDC response was really different from most big organizations that came in after the earthquake because they were looking for Haitian foundations to work with to help them build their capacity. It was extremely important for us and it helped us to change gears. Thanks to them we became important players in education.”
Giving children access to quality education is the key to rebuilding life in Haiti. Kedar was inspired by the Kedma school in Jerusalem, a community initiative for disadvantaged children, and PACT (Parents and Children Together), an early intervention program to help bridge the vast educational, developmental, and social gaps between Ethiopian- Israeli children and their veteran peers at the youngest age. This wide-reaching program includes literary enrichment, daycare subsidies and more and operates in 14 cities, reaching over 14,000 Ethiopian-Israeli children and 6,000 parents. JDC partners with both national and local governments, local NGOs and the Ethiopian-Israeli community to run PACT, which is supported by major partnerships with over 10 North American Federations and individual donors and foundations.
“This educational model is something all countries should have. Education must start early and must include the whole family because the child belongs to a family but they also belong to a country. So in essence, when we educate a child, we’re also preparing a citizen,” said Kedar.
For Mirai Chatterjee, Director of the Social Security at Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, a union of 1.3 million women workers in the informal economy, the JDC workshop gave her a chance to be nourished by her female colleagues around the globe.
“Something is powerful happens when women come together like this. Here we are building solidarity and sisterhood across community lines and we are building up solidarity as a force for social change,” she said.
Amit of JDC said the women chosen for this first workshop were hand-picked. “We wanted to keep it small to see what the dynamics are and to see if we will continue, what lessons are learned from this.”
Since it was a success, Amit said next on the agenda is: “How do we garner all the power we have amongst ourselves and continue to grow?”