Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A meaningful Bar Mitzvah in the slums of Mumbai

Thirteen-year-old Yoni Levi wanted to do something significant for his bar mitzvah, something that demonstrated the meaning of being a caring person in the world. So he came to Mumbai, India – along with his father, Ben – where he spent time working in the Kalwa slum with children and the community, to advance education, clean water, and connect with the children in an meaningful way.

Yoni, a student at the Amit school ('Chomesh') in Raanana, Israel, contacted the JDC – a partner of Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) - and conducted six important activities in preparation for and during his visit to the Kalwa slum.

Involving friends and family. Yoni arranged a good old-fashioned sports day where his school friends and family fund raised while enjoying team athletics competitions; including three-legged and sack races.

Teaching English the fun way. Yoni got some friends together to make “poses” out of the English letters. Yoni’s mother, Michele, who is a graphic artist, then turned these poses into a beautiful poster of the English alphabet that he put up in the GPM Love2Learn school in Kalwa. The children in the Love2Learn school then made a poster of their own, which Michele turned into a poster for the class in Yoni’s school in Raanana. The children had fun, learned English, and built a strong bond between themselves. The message here was that Yoni’s class and the love2Learn students worked together in a collaborative project; school children connecting and learning together!

Inaugurating a Safe Drinking Water delivery vehicle. The GPM Safe Drinking Water project in Kalwa that provides filtered and recycled water bottles to households in Kalwa needed a vehicle to deliver the water bottles. Many families in the slum are unable to carry the 20 liter filtered water bottles through the alleyways because of illness, pregnancy or disability. Yoni and his family decided to donate a vehicle for this purpose, which can hold 40 massive water bottles to deliver to families that are unable to retrieve the bottles themselves. This is a vital aspect of this program which will have a direct impact on people’s health and well-being in Kalwa. People in the slum need safe drinking water to ensure that they are not exposed to diseases and bacteria in the water. This vehicle makes the program widely accessible in the slum. Yoni and his dad also made the first two deliveries to a family whose father was infirm and a pregnant single mother.

Training kids to juggle. Yoni is an avid juggler and decided to share his favorite hobby with the kids of Love2Learn. He prepared sand and balloons in order to teach the children how to make their own juggling balls. Then he taught them the art of juggling. Today, you can see kids throughout the slum juggling colorful balls, adding fun, color, and liveliness to the community, thanks to Yoni!

Opening a 600-book library. Yoni and his family inaugurated a brand new library in the GPM Joshua Jacob Greenberger Learning Center. The library now has 600 books, which will serve the children in the center as well as all the children of the neighborhood.

Taking the GPM students on a museum excursion. Finally, on his last day in Mumbai, Yoni and his father took the kids on an excursion to a local science museum. Yoni and Ben joined JDC-GPM local interns in a 'Sunday-Funday'. A fun and educational day for everyone.

“We got to understand from the GPM staff that the real significance of Yoni’s visit and the collaborative project between schools was that the children in the slums feel that they are valued, something that is not a given with all the challenges they face living in extreme poverty", said Yoni’s mother Michelle. “This learning experience has been so meaningful to our family and Yoni.”

Yoni’s bar mitzvah visit was not only important for the kids in Kalwa. It was also significant for the kids in Yoni’s school, who now have a connection with kids in India, and a deepened understanding of our interconnected humanity. It also was a great learning experience for all. Yoni plans on staying in touch with the class, to continue to share ideas, posters, and tales of juggling.

Yoni's visit in an article in the Israeli paper Yediot Ahranot; 3 April 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Nativ College Leadership Program at GPM in India

GPM was privileged to have the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel come volunteer with us this past month. During their 3-week trip to Mumbai, participants in the Nativ gap year program volunteered with several programs run by Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM). The program was run in conjunction with JDC Entwine and supported by a Repair the World Alternative Break Micro Grant. The program's main focus was service learning and volunteering with vulnerable children in the GPM Love2Learn school in the Kalwa slum. Participants also connected with Jewish Indian youth in several social and learning settings, traveled to Jewish historical sites on the Konkan coast, participated in a 3-day camp with Indian Jewish youth, and learned in seminars on Indian Jewish history and international development.

Staff of both GPM and Nativ were extremely satisfied with the program. The director of Nativ, Yossi Garr, said that this experience far surpasses all other volunteer experiences that the participants had throughout the year. He said, “Everyone talks, but at GPM, you act. This is real.” Nativ has already begun making plans for next year’s cohort to come to GPM as well.

The GPM staff were also very impressed with the Nativ group. They demonstrated maturity, openness, curiosity, and a profound interest in serving the needs of vulnerable children in India. They quickly made cultural adjustments and shared many powerful insights about poverty and social responsibility.

Jacob Sztokman, GPM Founding Director, who accompanied the group, said: “It was thrilling to see US gap year participants in Israel taking on a tikkun olam project in Indian slum communities as part of their gap year! The Nativ group was excellent! Before they got to India we were worried about the age of the participants but the mostly 18-year old ‘Nativers’ proved to me mature, professional and hardworking! They chose to volunteer with children living in the slums as their winter break and its not easy teaching in the slums every day. A lot of great discussions were held based on some great classes in Jewish Perspectives on Social Development, Responsible Volunteering, Insights on Development work, Jewish India and many other classes made possible by the Repair the World Alternative Break Micro Grant. A great part of the Alternative Winter Break was the interactions between the 14 international participants and their Jewish Indian counterparts. They were lucky to participate in a local JDC India youth camp and visit Jewish communities in remote villages.

David Ranrajkar, Volunteer Liasion, who coordinated on the ground in Mumbai, said: : I was really impressed by the love the Nativ group showed the children. Everyone made sure to come everyday and give their 110%! I hope the Nativ group comes back next year!

Read words written by Reegan Moskowitz (Nativ 37 participant) about her experience in Mumbai (