Jews have a responsibility to shape a positive future for all mankind

Ben Azzai group in a women’s co-op in Tamale, northern Ghana
Ben Azzai group in a women’s co-op in Tamale, northern Ghana

I was privileged to be a part of the Ben Azzai Programme in 2017, which provided the opportunity to visit Tzedek’s poverty relief work in Tamale, Ghana.

Whilst on the trip we met so many inspiring people and learnt about sustainable international development work. We were introduced to inspirational local people who volunteer their time to help those more disadvantaged than themselves.

For example, a nurse who, whilst working 6 long days a week, also set up a blood drive and mentors 25 victims of unsafe abortion: 22 are now back in school. We met youth leaders who encourage younger children to stay in education so that their lives will be improved in the long run. It was absolutely fascinating to hear from a local Tribe Chief about the huge impact of Tzedek’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project. It costs very little to start up and is run by the women in each village. This project is an excellent example of a sustainable development project since it requires no further input once it has begun. Having met people working so hard to help others around them despite all the challenges they face, it was not hard to return home enthused and raring to go.

On our return to the UK we were given the task of spreading the messages we had learnt. Working in partnership with those who went on the previous Ben Azzai trip to India, we developed the idea of a week during which we would arrange as many talks and educational events as possible. With a budget of only £300, by coordinating our efforts, we have reached a far wider audience than would have otherwise been possible.

The purpose of Social Responsibility Week was to expand the focus of our efforts to include charities around the world. It is important to emphasise that it is not intended to take focus away from local charities which do wonderful work. Rather, our aim is to remind us that as Jews we have a responsibility to every man, woman and child regardless of religion or nationality.

We spent many months developing resource packs and organising events and thanks to all 47 alumni of the Ben Azzai Programme, working as a team, we ran over 35 events reaching an audience in excess of 2000 people in just 8 days! We are very grateful to the Chief Rabbi for launching the week with an assembly for Year 12 at JFS during which he spoke about his reasons for establishing the Ben Azzai Programme having visiting the slums in Mumbai and the impact that had on him.

The majority of events took place in schools and JSocs since our main focus is young people. It is important to remember that such poverty exists, not only in developing countries thousands of miles away, but also on our own doorsteps, with an increasing refugee and homelessness crisis. Young people have a tremendous ability to contribute to a positive future for all mankind and it is for our generation to continue the amazing work of charities like Tzedek to make positive and sustainable changes for people all over the world.

With the first Social Responsibility Week we have laid the foundations and begun to educate people about the importance of outward-looking social action. It is my hope that in future years Ben Azzai alumni expand the audience and spread the message so that the Jewish community becomes more educated and plays its part in helping to alleviate problems facing people around the world.

About the Author
Ayelet Besso-Cowan is a third year Child Nursing student and was General Coordinator of Social Responsibility Week 2019.
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