Monday, March 20, 2017

From slums to sandcastles

"I’m very lucky to work for two fantastic organisations here in Mumbai. I am currently completing a fellowship with Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) and the Indian branch of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). In particular, GPM works in under-served rural villages and urban slums in the state of Maharastra. We focus primarily on education, health and nutrition programmes. By addressing these three areas, we can change lives and give someone the ability to make choices about their own life. A privilege many of us don't even recognise we have.

Another privilege that was once pointed out to me, during my time in Ghana with Tzedek, is travel and movement. Throughout most of our lives we will, at some point, visit somewhere outside of our own neighbourhood. However, for many of the children GPM works with this is not the case. Their experience of the world is almost entirely limited to life in Kalwa slum. Despite Kalwa being no more than 30 minutes from one of the world’s largest cities, Mumbai, almost none of the children from the slums will have been to see it. They will never have been to a park, museum or even a library.

To do something about this, the JDC works with GPM to create the JDC GPM Internship programme. This programme empowers young Jews form the local community to run weekly ‘Sunday Fundays’ for the children GPM works with in Kalwa. Volunteers plan educational and fun sessions that take place all over Mumbai. They could visit the science museum, aquarium, or an art gallery, maybe the gardens in Malabar Hill or, like this week, go to the beach.

Dressed up and super ready for the day, 21 kids, aged 5-12 years old, excitedly waved and shouted hello at us from the bus as it pulled up by Chowpatty beach in south Mumbai. As they got off we were greeted with high fives, smiles and shouts of “hi teacher!”. I’m not sure I can do justice to the look of excited happiness on their faces as we walked/ran/climbed the walls towards the entrance. However, as we reached the edge of the beach, the group at the front, abruptly stopped. Unsure, they looked to each other and then collectively took a leap of faith. They had never seen or felt sand before. These kids had never been to a beach before. This initial trepidation was quickly forgotten as the playground came into sight. There are no real open spaces in Kalwa slum, especially not ones with playground equipment, or without rubbish.
The volunteers from the internship spent time teaching the kids about different sports; cricket, basketball, football, hockey, etc. We then played relay races and running games. Everyone was shouting, cheering and laughing - volunteers, teachers and kids, together.

After lunch where, obviously, popards and gulab jamum were in the highest demand, we started going down to the sea. A small group of four held Maayan and my hands as we walked down to the edge of the water. Along the way Maayan explained, in Hindi, that this was the sea, and not a river or lake like you have in Kalwa. Understandably, Nikita, who was holding my hand very tightly as we approached, was a little intimidated by the sea and putting her feet in the water. So, the volunteers dipped our toes in the water and soon everyone followed. As the water washed over their feet there was a collective laughing, giggling, shriek of pure joy. After all the kids had gone to the sea, we returned back to the group only to be greeted with a very loud and enthusiastic request to go to the sea again!

Watching these amazing, beautiful, inquisitive children discovering the beach for the first time was just wonderful. It often feels like, in Mumbai, a positive only exists as a result of a stark contrast to a negative. But this Sunday, for a few hours, that was not the case at all. They were just kids at the beach, playing, laughing and having fun.

I feel so blessed to work with organisations and people that make these experiences possible, and that I was included. How special that for one morning our only job is to bring happiness, new experience and opportunity to these children. The smiles on the kids’ faces at the end of the day is testament to what can be achieved with little money, but a lot of time, care and effort from dedicated, hard-working people."

Lucy Cohen,
JDC JSC Pears Fellow 2017
GPM Volunteer Coordinator and Development Project Manager

Sunday, March 12, 2017

GPM Welcomes Subhash L. Mahale as Educational Field Officer for the Love2Learn Program

Subhash Mahale
Mr. Subhash L. Mahale has joined the GPM team as Educational Field Officer for the GPM Love2Learn Program in the village of Ashte in Dahanu Taluka in the Palghar district in Maharashtra, India.

Mr. Mahale, a 31-year-old father of two who holds a BA in humanities as well as a Teaching Diploma, was born and raised in Ashte village. A member of the progressive Konkana tribe, he is passionate about education and social change, and is a veteran community organizer. He has been a program coordinator on issues of women’s empowerment, health care, and children’s education, He has many interests, from sports like Kabbadi, Kho Kho, or Cricket, to dancing the Gauri Dance or Adivasi Tarpa dance typical tribal folk dances of the area.

“We are thrilled to have Subhash on our team,” said Kenneth Dsouza, GPM Director in India. “His
Subhash and a village class
wealth of experience, combined with his deep knowledge of the region and connections with the people, make him a wonderful asset to the organization. I am sure that with his help, we will continue to make significant development inroads improving the lives of the families and children in the area.”

Mr. Mahale’s duties will include:  Daily supervision of the Love2Learn classes and the Ashte English Pre-school in all aspects of education, nutrition and health care;  Implementation of the ASHTEgreen12 farmers program; Welcoming visitors, volunteers, donors and well-wishers; Organizing events such as Love2Learn Annual Day, Farmer’s meetings, Surveys for the English Nursery Pre-school; and Liaising with local educational authorities, government officials and health officers.

GPM offers a warm welcome to Subhash as he joins the GPM India family!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Don't be afraid, come back to school!

Its been two months since Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) teachers first stepped into the village of Pasodipeda and frightened all the children. The children were so frightened that they ran to the nearby forest and hid.

Its not that GPM teachers were acting scary or that they were wearing terrifying outfits that frightened the children. The children ran away because they were not used to seeing strangers in their village. You see, Pasodipeda is a remote tribal village located in an even more isolated and secluded area than the 20 villages where GPM has been doing development work for the last two years. The village is so cut-off from the world around it that the children, aged 8-12 were not accustomed to seeing strangers in their village.

The teachers arrived at the behest of the Modgaon Regional Government Educational Officer. The government official heard about the GPM Love2Learn program in the area and asked GPM to consider running the Pasodipeda local government school as the current teacher was unable to continue. Seasoned GPM teacher, Anil Mahala was excited to tackle this challenge and travelled the forty minutes through winding dirt roads to Pasodipeda. Anil is exceptional in the area as he earned a Diploma of Education and he has taken over the village school as principal and teacher.

So back in the forest, parents gently convinced their children to return to classroom (“don’t be afraid, come back to school”) and gradually introduced Anil to the children.  Slowly, Anil won the hearts of
Anil and one of the classrooms at Pasodipeda
the children and the GPM-run school in the Pasodipeda village has been running with full attendance for the last month.

Learning outside can be a lot of fun
This is an exciting development for Gabriel Project Mumbai. Working closely within government educational structures, being appreciated for the innovative teaching methods and being recognized as a strong valued partner in the region is an important part of creating effective and long-lasting grassroots community development in under-served communities.

We wish Anil a lot of success in providing the children of Pasodipeda with years of fruitful and exciting learning while receiving good nutrition and quality healthcare – hallmark elements of GPM’s Love2Learn initiative.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

GPM Launches the Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program in the Slums of Mumbai

Gabriel Project Mumbai is thrilled to announce the launch of the Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program in the slums of Mumbai. The program will provide emergency nutritional intervention to save the lives of 300 malnourished children per year who are under the age of five.

The program is named in memory of Dr. Gerald J. Friedman, a New York-based physician who practiced medicine for over 55 years and specialized in diabetes, cardiology and internal medicine. During World War II, Dr. Friedman served as a young army doctor in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific and was struck by how severe malnourishment affects the growth and development of children.

The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program was made possible thanks to the generous support of The Estelle Friedman Gervis Family Foundation, an organization named after Dr. Friedman’s beloved sister, Estelle. The Foundation's support is in the form of the largest single donation that GPM has ever received. The Foundation provides support services for needy children, including children in orphanages, those with physical illnesses or disabilities, developmental delays, or in stressful life situations.

“Both my uncle and my mother would have been very proud to support the Gabriel Project Mumbai program so that we may assist children in living full and productive lives with their families,” says Foundation President, Barbara Gervis, Estelle’s daughter.

The malnutrition program will take place at the Shravan Health Center in the Bhaskar Nagar slum neighborhood. The clinic was opened by GPM in August 2015 in partnership with the local NGO Doctors for You. The center provides a full range of medical services, primarily to children and mothers. These efforts enable this 200,000-member community to receive accessible, affordable, quality health care.

The malnutrition program was conceived by the doctors in the clinic, who were concerned about high incidences of malnutrition among their patients. This is a harrowing problem in the slums. According to the World Bank, the prevalence of malnourished children in India is among the highest in the world, and has dire consequences for the children. Malnourished children have more infectious diseases, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, experience stunted physical and mental development and have higher mortality rates than children who receive proper nourishment.

The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program will be using the universally acclaimed Integrated Child Development Program (ICDP) protocol to treat severely malnourished children.Through this program, which is advocated by WHO, the UN, and other emergency relief organizations, children undergo weight and height checks, upper arm circumference measurements and other physical and cognitive development measures, in order to diagnose the severity of their malnutrition.

The Center doctors will then treat the children with a three-month comprehensive nutrition program that helps kick-start the child's physical and cognitive development. The children receive nutritional supplements in the form of Hyderabad Mix and Ezee Paste. These are powerful protein-based food treatments specifically designed to treat malnourished children. In addition, parents in the Malnutrition ICDP program are provided intensive nutritional counselling in order to help families emerge from dangerous cycles of malnutrition.

“There are currently 300 children who have been identified as being malnourished and were waiting to receive treatment,” says GPM Founding Director Jacob Sztokman. “The Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program will be a godsend for them and for their parents, and enable the children to stave off life-threatening hunger. We welcome the Foundation's significant and multiyear commitment to ensuring the future of these children and trusting GPM to provide impactful vital programs like this one. ”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Temple Emanuel’s Global Mitzvah Shabbat Highlights Gabriel Project Mumbai

The following blog was contributed by Temple Emnual, Kensington Maryland on the participation of Gabe Davidson (GPM-Entwine fellow Summer 2014) participation in their recent Global Mitzvah Shabbat:

The Global Mitzvah Shabbat Service on November 18, 2016 at Temple Emanuel, Kensington, Maryland featured  Gabe Davidson who received a Jewish Studies fellowship to serve in the Gabriel Project Mumbai during the summer of 2014. Gabe is currently an elementary school teacher and masters candidate in Baltimore, Maryland.
Rabbi Warren Stone, Brina Saklad, Gabe Davidson, Sanders Davidson, Stan Fagen

To  the audience of more than 100,  Gabe provided a fascinating overview of  GPM,  explaining what the project seeks to accomplish, the population served, and the model for Jewish community involvement both from Mumbai area residents and students/fellows from around the world.  Gabe gave lively examples of his own role and responsibilities and shared the lifelong impact of GPM on his own perspective.  In particular, he expressed his deep belief in Tikkun Olam and the Torah’s moral imperative that although no one person, organization or project can repair all that is needed, one cannot desist from trying. Gabe ended his inspiring talk by informing the congregation and students who to contact to follow in his footsteps or connect personally to GPM.
In front of a GPM poster board

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Meet Gabriel Project Mumbai’s new Entwine Fall 2016 fellows

Leore, Alec, Coby and Rachel have finished their orientation and educational training in Mumbai and tomorrow they start providing literacy and nutrition support to children in the slums of Mumbai. We wish them good luck:

Rachel Skolnick

Rachel is an energetic and passionate Philadelphia native, who has spent the last 7 years living and working in Washington, DC. Always fascinated by people and how they connect, Rachel graduated Lehiqh University with a degree is Psychology. During her time there, Rachel spent a semester in Rome, where she was able to explore and be immersed in the local culture, and of course fell in love with the food.
Social Impact has been at the core of Rachel’s professional career, which has led her to marketing roles at mission driven organizations from the nonprofit world to the startup world. Rachel is passionate about the way digital technology can connect us, and has continued to gain expertise in the latest trends by completing a Digital Marketing Certificate from Georgetown University. In 2015, Rachel was named by General Assembly as one of their Women on the Rise, for her passion for social innovation and leadership as a woman in the technology sector. A lover of travel and adventure, Rachel has visited over 15 countries, most recently climbing Machu Picchu in August 2016.

Coby Palivathukal

Coby Palivathukal is a rising junior studying philosophy at Stanford University. He was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona to two Jewish parents, and Judaism has and continues to play a large role in his life. Even though he attended a Catholic high school, Brophy College Preparatory, he founded a Jewish Student Union, a club that met every week in order to foster a community for Jewish students in an otherwise non-Jewish environment. He is additionally passionate about education and has served in a teaching role for children as an English tutor, a swim coach, and a camp counselor. He is currently working at Stanford Sierra Camp, a camp for Stanford alumni and their families both as a counselor for the 7 and 8 year olds and as a chef in the kitchen. His main hobby is competitive swimming, and he was honored as an All-American during high school and was awarded the Stanford club athlete of the year award this past year. His other hobbies include hiking, reading, writing, cooking, and spending time with friends.

Leore Lusana

Leore Lusana was born in Israel and moved to the United States at the age of six. She recently graduated from the University of Hartford with a dual degree in Elementary and Special Education. She is currently working at the Vanguard School, a school geared towards working with students with autism, behavioral, and emotional disturbances. She cares about people and has always wanted to be a part of something important where she can make a difference in the lives of children. Learning about other’s cultures and customs is an interest of hers and she hopes to be able to discover more throughout this journey.

Alec Leve

Alec Leve graduated from college with a degree in Environmental Studies and a GPA of 5.5. He has been the Waterfront Director at his childhood Jewish summer camp for the past two summers. He sees this experience as the thing that has contributed most to his personal and professional growth and his ability to lead. He loves spending his time in ways that improve his skill set. He loves to read, play chess and also guitar. He also loves playing sports except for golf. As a recent college graduate he is looking for an opportunity to do something that will make a positive impact on others as well as himself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

GPM and Tzedek UK launch partnership to benefit vulnerable children in India

Gabriel Project Mumbai has joined forces with the UK organization Tzedek to promote the involvement of British Jewry in development work in India. Through this symbiotic partnership, the organizations hope to bolster Jewish volunteerism in the developing world, raise awareness about tikkun olam, and strengthen the Jewish presence among vulnerable children in the slums of Mumbai.

“I am so excited to work with the amazing people of Tzedek, who have such a strong vision of Jewish activism in the world,” says GPM founding director Jacob Sztokman.

Founded in 1990 as the British Jewish community’s response to extreme poverty, Tzedek educates the UK Jewish community through a uniquely Jewish lens, in schools, synagogues and youth movements; and inspire them to play an active part as volunteers, donors and fundraisers. The organization invests overseas resources a in local people who are working to help themselves out of poverty, and invests in locally conceived programmes that sustainably increase incomes, most often of women. Tzedek also invests in programmes that improve education and skills of children, as a way to break the cycle of poverty.

“Tzedek endeavours to increase the number of British Jews actively involved in overseas development, says Tdedek CEO Jude William. “Partnering with Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) gives many more Jews an opportunity to play an active part in effective poverty reduction work in India, and Mumbai slums specifically.  GPM is making great impact on the ground to help vulnerable children. They effectively use resources to bring great effect. In addition they offer a volunteer programme for international volunteers and local Jewish members of the Mumbai community. GPM story is compelling.

Founded in 2012, GPM cares for vulnerable children living in slums and poor rural areas of India by attending to the Triad of Children’s Well Being needs: education, health and nutrition. The GPM “Eat to Learn” provides daily hot, nutritious meals to 1500 children attending schools every day. GPM works with local NGO partners and women’s empowerment initiatives that have positive ripple effects in the slums, thus forging a powerful win-win model for advancing communal development.
GPM brings Jewish young adults from around the world to volunteer with vulnerable children, providing informal education and cultural tools to help them get ahead.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and his wife Mrs. Valerie Mirvis visited GPM in January this year and were moved by the stories of the children and the dedication to improve people’s lives, undertaken by Jews.

“I was enormously moved by what the Gabriel Project Mumbai is doing in the slums in India, and its affect is enormous,”, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said. Rabbi Mirvis gave his blessing to the GPM-Tzedek partnership as a way to involve more British Jews in their global responsibility, " and specifically in this project in Mumbai."
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at the launch of the GPM-Tzedek partnership

Chief Rabbi Mirvis and Valerie Mirvis visiting GPM in the slums of Mumbai (Jan 2016)

Tori Kahn, a 2013 GPM volunteer from London, recently described her experience with the children. “My experience has stayed with me more than I ever thought it would,” she said. “I'm not sure if it's that deeper understanding I now have of the impact some human love and attention can have or the awareness of a culture so different to our own. But the impression GPM and India made on me has stuck.”

Tori was especially close with an 11-year old boy named Shravan, who died of an undiagnosed illness because he had no access to health care in the slum. Tori helped raise money to open the Shravan Medical Center a groundbreaking medical clinic for women and children in the Kalwa slum in Mumbai which GPM built in his memory in 2015. “Shavran’s passing shocked me, and hit me hard but also reinforced to me the importance of the work GPM does. The health clinic that GPM has set up in Shavran’s name aims to prevent other children suffering in the way he did,” Tori said. “If Shravan had access to this kind of health care he might still be with us.” The medical clinic serves a community of 200,000 people that until now had no access to health care.

“I hope my experience and continued involvement with the charity allows me to give a small thing back to a society which has given me so much,” Tori added.

Adit Goschalk who was involved in Tzedek's educators program and was working with GPM as a Pears – JDC fellow explains described expounded on her eight months with GPM. "Overall I was incredibly inspired,” she said. "I was inspired not only by the people and the communities that I met, but also by everything that GPM has been successful in achieving in these communities."

“GPM mirrors projects that Tzedek has supported over its lifetime of 25 years,” Ms. WIlliams said. “GPM offers another compelling way for British Jews to look and contribute; to needs outside of our community. Tzedek and GPM together can win more hearts and minds among the community.”

Both Gabriel Project Mumbai and Tzedek are members of OLAM that promotes volunteering, service learning, international development, and social justice advocacy.

To support the work of GPM and Tzedek in the Mumbai slums, you can send UK Gift Aid tax-exempt donations to Tzedek, Platinum House, Gabriel Mews, Crewys Road, London NW2 2GD

Israeli army graduates volunteering with GPM in the slums

Twenty six  Israeli army graduates from elite units have  come to Mumbai to do social work projects including volunteering at Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) in the slums. The group, Fighters for Life, taught self-defense, hygiene, first aid, dance, art, environment awareness and English to children attending Gabriel Project Mumbai classes in the slums of Mumbai. The group also worked in painting a community center and teach classes to students in the Santa Cruz neighborhood of Mumbai .
"The children at Gabriel Project Mumbai classes in the slums really enjoyed the informal education classes provided by the Israeli group, " said Leya Elias, Program Coordinator of GPM. " We coordinated the topics being taught by the Israeli group and they came with a lot of the passion and enthusiasm and the children were highly engaged."

This is the second year that fighters for Life volunteered in the slums with Gabriel Project Mumbai, explained Jacob Sztokman, founding director of GPM, "we see a great value in communities coming together to support the welfare of vulnerable children. The Israeli team learned about the challenges faced by underserved communities and the children benefited from exposure to highly innovative pedagogic informal education classes!"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

GPM opens new English-language preschool in remote rural village of Ashte

GPM opened the first preschool serving the children of the remote rural village of Ashte in the Palghar district of Maharashtra this week. The preschool, which has 56 students for its first cohort, marks the first time that this village of 850 people has access to a preschool.

“The Ashte village leaders approached us earlier this year and asked us to provide a preschool for them,” explains GPM Director Jacob Sztokman. “They saw what amazing things we accomplished in our first year of Love 2 Learn, the schooling network that we established for the villages in the

Dahanu region, and they wanted us to include them, too. So we responded with a resounding ‘Yes’.”

Click image above for video!
GPM opened the Love 2 Learn primary-school network in 2015, initially with 20 classes, one in each of 20 remote, impoverished and underserved villages in the region. The residents of Ashte, which is one of the most remote villages – several hours’ drive from the nearest city – also asked if the school could be in English rather than the state language of Maharati or even their tribal dialect. The villager residents, who are primarily land owner farmers and landless members of the Konkana tribe, wanted to ensure that their children receive the finest education possible, on par with schools in Mumbai and Delhi.

“It is incredible that this is their aspiration,” Mr. Sztokman added. “Education is so hard to come by at all in this area, but they are not satisfied with basic education. They want English literacy, they want high quality, they want to have equal opportunities for their children. And they have entrusted GPM network.”

Village residents not only took the initiative of bringing GPM’s Love 2 Learn to their village. They also secured a suitable structure for the classroom, which they painted and landscaped with flora that they know their children would love. A tailor from the village also offered to make uniforms for all the children. 

GPM hired a local teacher, Ms. Anjana Thorat, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education from an Indian university. Due to the lack of educational facilities in the region, Ms. Thorat had been unable to work in her field as the Ashte village is remote and opportunities rare. Now, with the opening of the pre-school, she is able to remain in her community while working in her field. And the children, in turn, benefit from having a highly qualified professional from their own tribe. It is a win-win model for the school and for the community, and keeps the talent local.

Ms. Thorat will be aided by assistant teacher Ms. Geeta Dhangda, also a community member,  who studied commerce in English at a local college.

The teachers’ desk was painted in the style of the famous Warli tribal art by a local artist, Mr Ramesh Mirka. The desk, along with all the other furniture, was donated by ORT India, a Jewish educational and training organization that supports non-sectarian economic and social development.

The opening ceremony for the school, which took place this week, was attended by parents, children, GPM staff, and local dignitaries. The district doctor, Dr. Pravin Rathod, was honored as “Chief Guest”, and ceremoniously opened the preschool. The opening ceremony began with the official breaking of the coconut, an Indian custom for good luck, by Mr Devram Jadhav a village elder.   Raju Chaudrri , representing the parents spoke at the ceremony as well as: Mr. Pravin Gawli, - member of the Dahnu local govt committee (Panchayat), Mrs Tara Sathe- Sarpanch of the local govt of 3 village group, Mrs Deepa Jadhav- Deputy Sarpanch of 3 village groups, Mr. Sakharam Jadhav- Forest officer, Mr. Bhanya Jadhav- Police officer of Ashte village and Mr. Vijay Jadhav of the Adivasi Forest department.

“It’s a great privilege at Gabriel Project Mumbai to run the Ashte English preschool,” said GPM Program Director Kenneth DSouza at the ceremony. “Our goal is to provide high-quality English education to your children to give them the tools and knowledge for them to excel throughout their schooling."

"We will strive for the best pedagogic curriculum so that your children will have the same level of English education as children in schools in Mumbai in Delhi. We are excited to work together in this endeavor, and thank you for your trust", said Thaiza Dias, Program Manager of the Love2Learn program  at GPM.

After the ceremony, the teacher and assistant teacher sat with GPM teaching staff for their first
training before classes begin tomorrow.

The Ashte English Preschool is sponsored by the Global Mitzvah Project of Temple Emanual, Kensington, Maryland