After graduating from Cornell University, Sam Koss had an urge to make the most out of his post-grad experience and searched for an opportunity to give back to his community in a meaningful way.Through a suggestion from a friend, Sam was referred to Tevel b’Tzedek, an organization that works on long term interventions in developing communities throughout the world. The Israel-based NGO focuses on the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam and fostering Israeli and Jewish involvement in global service. Sam joined Tevel b’Tzedek as a volunteer for their trip to Nepal in February 2015.
Once I got there, I saw that this would be a great chance to see a different way of life and be a beneficial tangent to a community
Sam worked with Tevel b’Tzedek on their flagship initiatives, until the country was struck by the devastating earthquake in April, three months after his arrival. This was the worst natural disaster to hit Nepal since 1934, and left numerous Nepalese homeless, infrastructure destroyed, and thousands of casualties and injuries. Normal, everyday life in Nepal was put on pause, and Tevel b’Tzedek needed to evolve their initiatives to provide relief to the country. Tevel b’Tzedek had worked closely with developing communities in Nepal for the last eight years, and used their existing relationships and knowledge to cultivate their plans for relief efforts.
During the week that followed the earthquake, Sam describes how the Tevel b’Tzedek team worked to figure out how to proceed. The volunteers and staff members worked to target the urgent needs of the local community and efficiently divide up the work among the volunteers to align with these needs. “Everyone’s main focus was how to move forward rapidly,” he says.
Sam was relocated to the Managhu village, which he recalls as one of his personal hurdles. “It was pretty intimidating,” he explains, “Within the aftermath of the earthquake I had to understand the new social dynamic of Managhu, which was very strict, as well as work within the framework of my new role in Tevel b’Tzedek’s relief efforts.”
In the course of his time in Managhu village, Sam encountered a sixteen-year-old boy, who was one of leaders of the youth community. The earthquake destroyed the boy’s home, leaving only half of it standing. Sam and his Tevel b’Tzedek team worked with villagers to pull down the house to rebuild it. “Meeting him was truly inspirational,” Sam describes. “The home had belonged to this boy’s family for fifty years, but he wasn’t upset about pulling it down because he knew it was an opportunity to make it even better and strengthen community. In light of the destruction, his optimism provided me with a necessary sense of motivation in an internally challenging time.” Additionally, Sam explains how generally elderly men in the village leave at a certain age, but after the earthquake many returned, which intensified the strength of the community.
For Sam, watching how the Tevel b’Tzedek team worked with the community with a hands-on approach proved that the organization was “resilient in their efforts, and resourceful and creative in their solution.” Sam felt overwhelmingly confident in Tevel b’Tzedek’s abilities to aid the Nepalese in recovering from the earthquake.
In addition to exposing and connecting him to the Nepalese community, Sam spoke of other important connections fostered by his time with Tevel b’Tzedek.
“Volunteering with Tevel b’Tzedek is not just working on sustainable community development,” Sam explains, “It is also an amazing immersion into Israeli and Jewish culture. My Hebrew is better than it ever has been after being in Nepal!” Sam describes the strong ties to Israel as one of his favorite aspects of his involvement with the organization.
I finished my volunteer service not only having a deep connection to Nepal and its people, but also feeling closer to Israel
Sam reflects that easing into a volunteer program with an open mind is crucial, and that although at times it feels as if you may not be making an impact, it’s important to think broadly and remember that your takes place within a broader communal project.
“In the aftermath of the earthquake, I sometimes found it challenging to focus on the bigger picture, and questioned if my individual efforts would make an impact,” Sam says. “It’s critical to keep in mind that this is a community effort… I found great comfort in Tevel b’Tzedek’s continued motivation, and looking back, it is clear their work in Nepal has made a great impact.”