Humans of OLAM: Karen Steiner

"CADENA has a huge heart": a Mexican Jewish organization provides relief to communities in crisis


“CADENA’s programs consistently go beyond just providing direct help,” says Karen Steiner, who serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator for the Mexican Jewish humanitarian-aid organization CADENA. “Our approach is hands-on, and we work to target communities that need our help the most, and empower them.”

After finishing her studies and volunteering in Africa for three months, Karen was searching for a way to continue her philanthropic work in her home, Mexico City. That is when she found CADENA, a source of humanitarian aid from the Jewish community in Mexico working to provide relief from natural disasters on an international level. Karen worked with CADENA from their beginning stages. She began as a volunteer, and though she has now officially joined CADENA’s staff as Emergency Coordinator, she remains an active on-the-ground volunteer as well.

Karen explains that during CADENA’s earlier stages, they worked with volunteers from Mexico City’s high schools, and implemented educational programs to aid in community development. In the past five years, CADENA has grown rapidly into an influential organization on the international level. CADENA works on a variety of different projects, ranging from drought relief in Sierra Tarahumara, to assisting communities suffering from a severe winter in Veracruz, to currently providing emergency aid to people affected by Hurricane Patricia.

Karen reflects on the times she’s personally been in the field, describing that her experiences with CADENA have been rewarding on every level. “Every mission has an unexpected element,” she notes. “You can organize every detail, but something always comes up. I’m continuously impressed with how effectively and efficiently CADENA’s team bounces back, and evolves.” During her time with CADENA, Karen has participated in their endeavors in providing relief for those affected by a drought in Kenya, a flood in Tabasco, a landslide in Oaxaca and a forest fire in Ciudad Valles that destroyed the area’s agriculture.

It’s very special to be able to help vulnerable communities, and provide them with the stepping stones to get back on their feet and become even more prosperous than before.

“Throughout the past five years, I really came into touch with my humanitarian side,” says Karen. “I went into every mission not knowing what to expect, and upon my return, I saw myself and the world on a completely different level. It’s very special to be able to help vulnerable communities, and provide them with the stepping stones to get back on their feet and become even more prosperous than before.”

On a mission in La Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico, the CADENA team traveled to different communities to provide aid in the aftermath of a landslide. “When we arrived, I met a man who had walked eight hours to meet us,” Karen recalls, “He was crying, and expressed how thankful he was for CADENA’s relief. I was so touched, and in that moment, I realized how meaningful CADENA’s work is.”

Although the resulting damage from Hurricane Patricia was less severe than anticipated, many communities’ infrastructures were destroyed. CADENA sent multiple teams in to investigate, and launched a project in which they provided food for one thousand individuals, and rebuilt forty-eight homes. They are planning a second round of aid, says Karen, and will be providing one hundred and five homes with new ceilings. “For CADENA, [the response to Hurricane Patricia] was a huge success,” Karen reflects. “Our team was ready to take action. They took initiative on the ground, and returned with more ideas for future projects!”

Karen explains one of the most rewarding aspects of her work with CADENA is seeing the lasting impact. “Through CADENA’s work, we empower individuals to help themselves. We work with the communities to make permanent changes, and are committed to seeing these through.”

After five years with CADENA, Karen explains that what makes CADENA work is the organization’s involvement within the Jewish community in Mexico, and their pride in representing this community globally. “CADENA has a huge heart,” she says, “and with that, we can do everything.


Looking to take action? Learn more about CADENA here, and check out other global Jewish service opportunities on the Take Action page of OLAM‘s website.