The ‘Israel Peace Corps’: A Dispatch from Ghana

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Children in Ghana play soccer

What can soccer-loving children from Ghana do when they don’t possess the equipment to play their nation’s treasured sport?

With touches of resourcefulness and tikkun olam, a Jewish Federation-supported The Jewish Agency for Israel program found the solution.

“One of our enrichment activities for children is a sports project that serves as a way for developing life skills,” said Rachel Shaya, 31, of The Jewish Agency’s Project TEN center in Ghana. “At one of our meetings, the children told us they had no soccer goals, so we brainstormed together and decided to build them using water bags and other recycled materials. They’ve learned a way of using available materials that are in abundant supply.”

Project TEN: Global Tikkun Olam is a Jewish Agency service-learning program that brings young Jewish adults from Israel and around the world to volunteer, study and travel together in Israel or other developing regions across the globe. The program’s work is rooted in the central Jewish value of tikkun olam — translated from Hebrew as “repairing the world.”

Throughout her 1½ year-long appointment in Ghana, Shaya was on a journey beyond her wildest imagination.

“I run a house with 15 Jewish volunteers — a diverse but united team from all over the world,” Shaya said. “I also run the partnerships with visionary locals. We work together with existing local NGOs and provide them with informal education tools to help them function independently. Our main goal is to generate social and environmental change in the community.”

Throughout her time in Ghana, Shaya experienced cultural differences between Israel and Ghana.

“As Israelis, we’re used to getting things done, but here people behave differently,” she explained. “The attitude to time is different. Schedules are seen as recommendations only, which can make working here a bit trying. The moment I let myself learn and experience the culture, I let go. I also learned that being on the go all the time doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. The relaxed approach allowed me to enjoy the process much more and open myself to real cultural learning.”

Then why not stay in Ghana?

“I’ve learned about myself and other people. I’ve learned a different culture, and the meaning of partnership and sustainability. But I want to continue putting all that to work in the place I call home — Israel,” Shaya said. “I’m connected to the land and am excited and eager to put all I’ve learned into practice in whatever new direction I go.”

Indeed, Shaya’s work in Ghana has come full circle. In the course of pursuing shared goals with Project TEN volunteers and locals alike, she empowered them to become leaders in their own right.

“Now they’ll be able to build goals by themselves,” she said of the soccer equipment. “They’ve experienced teamwork and learned that in order to create something they want or need, they have to assume responsibility and be proactive. We left them something tangible on the soccer field that will serve them for many years to come, but more importantly we left them with a way of thinking and working that will last them a lifetime.”

— Omer Kalderon

Jennifer WeinerJewish Philly Podcast Episode 16: Jennifer Weiner

It’s summer 2019, and we’re talking about the renewed debate over abortion through a Jewish and Israeli lens, followed by a conversation on the new upcoming Israeli elections with Jewish Exponent reporter Jesse Bernstein, and we’re sharing the story of Haym Salomon, financial hero of the American Revolution.

We also had the chance to sit down with one of Philadelphia’s most famous authors, Jennifer Weiner, to talk about her new book Mrs. Everything, why it’s important for her to write Jewish characters and share their stories in her books, and the moment she realized she had become a Philadelphian.

The Jewish Philly podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play and at Jewishphilly.org/podcast.

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