One of the world’s more prolific humanitarian aid organizations, the American Jewish World Service plays an important role in the fight against global poverty. The organization sends over $13 million a year overseas to fund 400 grantees in 36 countries worldwide. Not only does the AJWS fund such initiatives by their grantees, the organization has sent more than 3,000 volunteers to work with local NGOs around the world. More recently, the AJWS and its president have taken a stand on issues at home, following the recent decision on gay marriage in the United States.
At its inception, the AJWS was inspired by a religious commitment to justice and the international organization continues to pursue an end to extreme poverty in developing nations worldwide. Historically forward-thinking in its mission to end poverty and promote human rights, the AJWS concentrates its work in four areas: international development, accountability and learning, humanitarian action, and policy and action. Overall, the goal of AJWS initiatives is sustainability in implementation, such that local NGOs can maintain the effectiveness of initial, ideally one-time, funding and support.
By sending volunteers abroad, the AJWS seeks to realize the Jewish value of tikkun olam. Tikkun olam, or the idea of repairing the world, represents a commitment by members of the Jewish faith to become global citizens, one dedicating him or herself to helping those in need. In realizing tikkun olam, AJWS volunteers and the organization itself are no strangers to taking a stand on controversial issues.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop. 8, AJWS president Ruth Messinger voiced her support for the decision. The AJWS representative and long-time supporter of LGBTI rights noted that in over 75 countries across the globe people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender. In five of these countries, the guilty parties can be sentenced to death. Ms. Messinger’s statement shows a clear and far-reaching commitment by the AJWS to protect all human rights, beyond the right to a life free from poverty. It is decidedly heartening to see a religious organization so active in controversial issues.
– Herman Watson