Joint Bar Mitzvah Project Aids African Villages

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Jack and Jordanna Ufberg
Jack and Jordanna Ufberg (Courtesy of Jordanna Ufberg)

Like many other teens preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, Jack Ufberg, 12, of Penn Valley is raising money for the less fortunate.

The goal of his project is to help Innovation: Africa, a New York-based nonprofit bringing Israeli solar technology to off-the-grid villages in Africa.

What makes Jack’s project a bit different is that he’s joining forces with four other boys around the world.

Jack’s mother, Jordanna Ufberg, first heard of Innovation: Africa at a presentation during a womens retreat hosted by their family synagogue, Aish Chaim. She learned how the nonprofit has helped an estimated 1.3 million people with more than 220 completed projects in 10 African countries.

Innovation: Africa was founded in 2008 by Israeli-born Sivan Ya’ari. In an email, Ya’ari wrote of the organization’s mission to share Israeli-developed technology with those living in rural villages across sub- Saharan Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa. The provision of solar energy and water has helped communities in those areas become healthier.

Jordanna Ufberg was inspired by presentations at the retreat.

“It really spoke to me,” she said of Innovation: Africa. “It was amazing.”

Upon returning home, she ran into a friend who told her about a group of four mothers and their sons working to raise money for Innovation: Africa. The group consisted of Levi Don of Arizona, Evyatar Solomon of Los Angeles and cousins Yontan Berman and Shaiya Gersch of Israel. Soon, Jack was brought on board.

The goal was to raise a total of $18,000, with each boy contributing $3,600. Jack was able to reach his goal through a GoFundMe. He said working on the project has been rewarding and helped put things into perspective.

“I really did like the idea of being able to have a project where I could help somebody that is less fortunate than I am,” Jack said. “The project helped me learn about how these small things like water and electricity are so basic to me, but they’re much harder to get in other places.”

The nonprofit’s most common project is installing solar-powered water pumps and applying Israeli agricultural practices, such as drip irrigation, in drought-affected areas. These pumps tap into underground water and pump up to 10,000 gallons per day into large tanks, from which the water is distributed throughout a village. The electricity generated from the Israeli solar panels is also used to help power schools and medical centers.

Ya’ari said via email that the benefits in the investment in energy infrastructure come back tenfold to the villages and families. All money donated to Innovation: Africa goes directly toward helping the villages the nonprofit works with as all of their overhead costs are supported by private donors.

Since he’s reached his goal, Jack plans to use additional money raised to help him travel to Uganda in January to see the unveiling of the solar panels he helped fund. He’ll also use the trip to bring school and kitchen supplies to those in need.

“It’s going to be a great chance to see other parts of the world and to be able to help them,” Jack said.

He’s now raised more than $4,600, with a goal of $6,000. In the meantime, Jack is studying in preparation for his Sept. 21 Bar Mitzvah.

Ya’ari wrote that it’s an amazing experience to see their projects in action for the first time.

“It is priceless when a Bar Mitzvah boy sees the eyes of children looking at a light bulb for the first time, and it is priceless seeing the reaction of mothers and children opening a tap with water, clean water, flowing out. Their joy and disbelief are so rewarding,” she wrote. “I don’t think people fully understand the extent of their donations and how these young boys and girls are helping to change the destinies of so many people.”

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