American Jewish World Service

Program Reviews

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IzzyPar
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AJWS expanded my understanding of international development, women's rights and food justice, among other things. The group leaders are well trained, knowledgeable and easy going. Our host community was welcoming and welcomed us into their homes like their own children.

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Judy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Prior to my 3-month volunteer experience in Phnom Penh, friends at home asked me why I would even go to Cambodia, not exactly a tourist must-see destination. After my return home, I told them about my work, my deep respect for the Khmer people, and my new attachment to a country that hadn't been on my radar before. My experience as an educator allowed me to write curriculum for training youth 18 to 30 years of age, and how to organize themselves to create and actualize volunteer projects in their own communities in eight provinces. In addition, I wrote grants for my organization, Cambodian Volunteers for Society, and even felt the immense satisfaction of receiving funding while I was still there. I know that my work was valuable to CVS, but I never anticipated the personal rewards I would receive as I was embraced by my new Khmer friends, devoted to improving conditions in their beloved Cambodia. AJWS provided me the necessary support to find housing and an in-country representative was available to help solve potential problems. AJWS has an uncanny ability to match professional skills of potential volunteers with the needs of local grass-roots NGOs. My experiences as a volunteer were some of the most fulfilling in my life.

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lkaron
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Volunteer Summer was definitely a program that I would recommend to a friend. The way that I chose the program was because I wanted to work with women's empowerment in India, and that was definitely part of what the group did. The group was also extremely diverse. It ranged from individuals who were very observant of their Judaism, as well as individuals who were very aware of social justice issues. Therefore, if an individual is well-versed in social justice issues or is very observant, go with the expectation that you will be the teacher, and not really the student. However, I met great people, and people that I had met that summer I will definitely be friends with for the rest of my life. Also, volunteers did not have a lot of freedom on the trip. We had to constantly had to travel in groups of three, and we were not allowed to go into town without group leaders. Also, we had NO freedom to travel by ourselves on the weekends. We had to stay at the compound, so if you're expecting to travel, this is not really the trip for you. However, we did go on a couple weekend trips that were pretty fun. The living accommodations were also pretty comfortable, which is somewhat ironic, considering that we were living in a somewhat rural community. We also stayed at extremely lavish hotels which was also ironic considering the circumstances that we were surrounded by. However, the food was delicious, and I had a lot of fun. It was also an awesome way to see India, but I would definitely want to go back by myself at a later date.

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Dorit
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AJWS Vounteer Corps links Jewish professionals with grass-roots NGOs in the developing world who can help the NGOs in capacity building. I spent 3 months in Kampala Uganda, working with a small women's advocacy group advocating for improved human rights and access to healthcare. As a lawyer with a human resources background, I essentially built a human resources system for the NGO. I also helped them with grant-writing and reporting.

I worked with a core group of approximately a dozen Ugandans - dynamic, inspiring, desperately poor and barely educated women who at great personal risk had started this tiny organization determined to fight for their rights. On a day-to-day basis, I drafted policies and documents of all sorts, but also attended countless workshops around Uganda with members of the NGO as well as local police, health care providers and many other human rights groups.

The work was intellectually challenging but most of all inspiring. I got to know the women I worked with well, and empathized greatly with their cause. On a personal level, I felt I learned far more from them than they did from me, and I came to like them tremendously and admire them enormously for their courage and tenacity.

As a woman living alone in Kampala, I felt very safe. Ugandans are some of the most welcoming, open people I have met anywhere in the world, and I felt comfortable from the start.

I lived in a private apartment that I rented from a retired Ugandan couple, and learned to navigate the crazy public transportation system so I didn't feel isolated. I spent time with my landlords, my colleagues at the NGO, as well as some other AJWS volunteers.

I've lived overseas before, so I wasn't thrown off by things that might be viewed as hardships by many first-timers -- such as the constant power outages, internet failures, etc. My kindle and my reading headlamp were my constant companions.

I joined a local running group, and spent many weekends exploring Kampala as well as the Ugandan countryside. I ran a half marathon in Jinja - the "Source of the Nile" - and at the end of my stint with AJWS spent a week touring magnificent, beautiful Uganda. (Relatively untouristed, Western Uganda is spectacularly beautiful - I did some of the best hiking I've ever done and got to trek both gorillas and chimpanzees.) I also had the opportunity to spend Passover with a Ugandan Jewish community called the Abayudayah - a memorable experience that I will treasure always.

The highlight of my experience was being invited by one of my Ugandan work colleagues to attend a "kwanjula" -- a traditional Ugandan engagement ceremony. This was a colorful, fascinating, fun afternoon and I felt beyond honored to be invited. At the subsequent wedding, I was even more honored to be asked to make a little speech on behalf of my NGO -- which I did, in the local language!

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Justine
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Living and working in a conservative Indian city as a young, single, white woman has been the most challenging experience of my life. I would not be able to survive this year without the encouragement and guidance I get from AJWS. Knowing that they have my back makes all those times when I'm frustrated by the language barrier, lonely or feeling lost worth it.

AJWS has impressed me by how thoughtful, attentive and helpful the staff are. It meant a lot to me when the director of the program wrote me an encouraging letter after he heard that I had had a bad experience with an auto rickshaw driver. The staff have made me feel listened to, respected, and valued.

As a World Partners Fellow I have become more resilient, understanding and humble in ways I didn't know were possible. I'm only half way through the program but I know that I will never be the same again and will take the lessons I have learned from AJWS and from India with me for the rest of my life.

--Justine Dowden, World Partners Fellow 2011-12

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Sarah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I was placed with a local NGO that worked with vulnerable children in Phnom Penh and around Cambodia. The work was very interesting -- I edited reports, wrote proposals, attended site visits, and advised on fundraising and marketing strategies. The most valuable part of my "work" was sitting in the office of the NGO's deputy director and just talking in English to him. We spent long periods just talking with me helping him improve his English and learn more about the world.

I used the volunteer experieince to integrate into the lively expat scene and loved living in Phnom Penh. Using common sense and heeding the advice of other expats, I felt completely safe.

I absolutely loved me experience, feel like I made a minor contribution, but took away a profound connection to that part of the world.

Would highly recommend the AJWS experieince to other mid-career professionals looking to do something meaningful.

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LStein
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AJWS placed me as a volunteer with the Cambodia Women's Movement Organization (CWMO) in 2010. I worked in Phnom Penh for six months, helping CWMO develop a strategic and fundraising plan for their work supporting female garment factory workers. AJWS provided a great orientation for the volunteer cohort prior to volunteer time, which set our expectations well and prepared us for the challenges and joys of our upcoming experience. My colleagues at CWMO were immensely appreciative of my work with them, and I learned so much about Cambodian labor issues. I participated in meetings with other key organizations and traveled around the country with CWMO. My AJWS volunteer peers were all wonderful, thoughtful people. I have remained close with some of them upon my return to the U.S. I would highly recommend the AJWS Volunteer Corps program to anyone interested in making a meaningful impact abroad!

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ACarWPF
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This 11-month fellowship is an excellent opportunity for recent college grads (0-2 years) who are particularly interested in international development or other issues in the Global South. It's unique in that the organization that sends you (AJWS) partners you with a local, grassroots NGO in India for whom you will volunteer. The relationship between you, AJWS, and the NGO is a strong one, and you are well supported by both AJWS (in the field and in their NY HQ) as well as the NGO staff on the ground.

Each cohort has 10-12 fellows, and NGO placements vary widely. The majority are in large urban centers (Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad), however there are various placements in small towns and usually 1-2 placements per year in very rural settings. AJWS takes into account your preferences for geography, proximity to other fellows, skills, and work interest when determining your placement - and they are very good at matching you to an NGO!

NGO work also varies. Most placements are with NGOs that work on women's empowerment, health (nutrition, HIV/AIDS, community health), and human rights (Dalit populations, nomadic tribes), however placements in the past have also been with NGOs that do post-disaster shelter work, agricultural livelihoods, and education. Fellow job duties are usually very general, and include "office support" for the NGOs. Sample past duties included: documentation of the NGOs work and/or history, organizational development, project management, designing surveys for effective program management, writing policy pieces for regional and national HIV/AIDS issues, designing community health posters and projects for rural communities, etc. etc. All placements also usually include frequent field travel.

Daily activities in the places that fellows live vary based on the type of city/town/village. In a large city, there are just as many options as any Western city, and fellows make a lot of expat friends. In the smaller towns and rural placements, social activities may be much harder to find, however fellows usually have a more tight-knit, tradition Indian community and experience. In all cases, English is enough to do your work, however picking up a second, local language (Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, etc.) is very helpful.

The peer-network aspect of the program makes this fellowship very special. The 10-12 fellows have a 1-month orientation in-country before they go to their NGOs, a mid-point retreat, and a domestic follow-up retreat. Throughout the year, fellows stay in touch via cell phones, and travel to visit each other often. The fellow network is the biggest and most important support system for fellows, and fellows stay close throughout and after the experience.

Bottom line-- the fellowship is an excellent, first exposure to the work of grassroots NGOs in India and international development work in general, has a great support system of fellows, AJWS staff, and NGO staff, and is a perfect opportunity for adventurous recent grads looking for something different. Highly recommended!

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redheadgardener
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Collaborating with Navsarjan, an organization that empowers communities marginalized by Caste, to meet individuals where they are at and supporting them on their own terms turned out to be the most amazing experience. It opened my eyes to so many important realities. Participating in this kind of work, work that advocates for individuals and focuses on both their present and their future, was so meaningful and worthwhile. I learned so much from people that commit themselves to a cause that they so believe in. Watching them model what it means to be a caring, hardworking, devoted and conscious person was invaluable and has enabled me to be a more empathetic and open person in my current work and current life. I am grateful to AJWS for giving me this opportunity.

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David
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AJWS matched me with an organization, Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust (sankalptrust.org) in Bombay, India, that was a better fit for me than I ever could have imagined. AJWS staff are super thoughtful about placement, and spend significant amounts of time and energy to ensure that partnerships are healthy, leading to the success of effective and sustainable work. I helped Sankalp develop a new website and online presence, marketing strategy, their 15th Anniversary Celebration, newsletters, Annual Reports, and a love for using technology amongst staff.

The fellowship is extremely well funded, I was allowed to change my living arrangements when I wanted to, I thoroughly enjoyed our orientation and midpoint educational programming. AJWS also encouraged me to learn Hindi, which turned out to be the most valuable skill I could have gained, in order to make myself feel included and comfortable. Through this program, I developed my adaptability, and gained a sense of balance, between ambition and humility.