AJWS - Volunteer Corps Program in India

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The AJWS Volunteer Corps Program in India is designed to give Jewish professionals and retirees the chance to use their skills and volunteer with a grassroots organization in India. AJWS is involved with a number of organizations that advocate for women's empowerment, transgender rights, natural disaster relief, minority rights advocacy, and much more. Anywhere from 3 months to a year, Jewish volunteers can get involved with a local organization and help make a noticeable difference while volunteering their time in India. Interested volunteers should visit the AJWS for more information on ongoing projects and application procedures.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Excellent exposure to grassroots NGO work

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!

1 person found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Do this!

This was an amazing opportunity and I would not have done this program with anyone other than AJWS. They are professionals both in international development and education which is the perfect combination if you want to learn about international development. AJWS helped me learn about the country I served in (India), how to have realistic expecations, how to live modestly, and how to overcome challenges. They arranged for my placement, housing, and all the other details. They were always a call away if I needed them. I had a ton of independance but knew I could rely on them for as much support as I needed.

The NGO they assigned me to was great. They not only were a place I came to work, but they were my friends. We traveled India together and they helped me understand the work I was doing. I also learned a great deal about how I want to be Jewish as a young adult and reflected on the importance of my faith. No one forced me to do anything, I got to chart my own path, make my own mistakes, and have incredible experiences. This was an amazing year of my life and I hope you jump on the opportunity to join WPF!

stop reading this, go apply!

1 person found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

First Purim Play Ever in Vijayawada!

I'm an OLD professional, as well as a theatre professional, and in March, 2010 I wrote and directed the first Purim play ever performed in Vijayawada, India, under the auspices of the Sanghamitra Service Society. Acted in Telugu AND English by two dozen Dalit children from two rural villages before an audience of several hundred humans, five goats and two water buffalo, THE MAGIC BOTTU was an adaptation of the Purim story where Queen Esther (now Queen Manata) rescued her people from the wicked Prime Minister (Rao Gopala Rao) to bring change and empowerment to their lives.

The play, translated into Telugu by the Sanghamitra staff, was performed on the day before International Women's Day, and was later taken "on tour" by the children to other villages whose citizens felt the sting of oppression everywhere and always in their lives. Its lesson, "It's not enough to hope for justice, you have to work for it too," was taken to heart by performers and audience, and the show concluded with a Telugu version of "We Shall Overcome," by the children's company, fists raised in the air.

If you have special skills, you can "work for justice" in many ways. In Vijayawada, the work was structured through the art of theatre, and the results came in equal measures of courage, self-confidence and love. Guiding my work was the verse from Psalm 118: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Become a AJWS volunteer and build together a house of justice for those in need to take shelter in.

--Robert Skloot.

1 person found this review helpful.