A Personal Lesson in the Power of the Collective

Group of farmers taking part in a specialist workshop. Photo: World Jewish Relief

Young farmers in a training session, run by World Jewish Relief and its Rwandan partner UNM. Photo: World Jewish Relief

The phrase ‘it takes a village’ really came to life for me on my recent trip to Rwanda, where I saw the fruits of several programs that are dependent on a shared sense of purpose. I witnessed how the power of the collective has the potential to change lives, and it made me even more proud to be working for two organizations that harness that power every day in various ways.

The first organization I work for is OLAM – which is, in essence, a “village” that supports a network of more than 65 Jewish and Israeli partners working in international development, humanitarian aid, and global volunteering. I was placed at OLAM for a year-long stint as part of the Jewish Service Corps Fellowship program at JDC Entwine – the second organization. JDC Entwine, an OLAM partner, is the young adult engagement initiative of the global Jewish humanitarian organization JDC. The programs I visited are supported by UK-based World Jewish Relief (WJR), which is a partner of both OLAM and JDC. So I thought I already had insight into the benefits of collaboration when I took off for Rwanda.

But what I witnessed once on the ground was so much stronger than I could have imagined. I visited a WJR program, run in partnership with a local organization, that trains young farmers whose families have been torn apart by the the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. What’s unique about this program is that it gives these farmers, who have very few financial opportunities, the chance to join a cooperative that is not only aimed at developing their confidence and skills, but offers them entrepreneurial guidance that has resulted in a 70% increase in the incomes of most of the group’s members.

I met graduates of a vocational skills center, run in partnership with another local organization, that not only trains young adults who would otherwise find it very difficult to find jobs, but also provides young mothers with babysitting services, so that they can attend their courses. Without this “village” support, these women would not be able to partake in the program, and would never have the opportunity to earn living wages.

The members of these rural communities are clearly going further because they are working together, and because they are receiving support from their fellow village members. So this year, while I am taking part in the age-old Jewish high-holiday tradition of looking inward to see how I can grow as an individual, I am also beginning a new one, thanks to my take-aways from my trip and my experiences thus far at OLAM and JDC: I will seek opportunities to cooperate and collaborate, in the hope that this will also give me new opportunities to contribute.

Wishing everyone a productive new year, in which we can mobilize our collective wisdom in order to make the world a better place for individuals across the globe.