This blog, first in our series of “Kids Who Care” is written by Rebecca Jacobson. Rebecca visited one of my photo exhibits of children orphaned by AIDS and decided to become involved. Here is her story:
Tzedakah means giving to charity and is a very important Jewish value.
My passion began in fourth grade, when I went to Karen Ande’s exhibit of pictures of children who had been orphaned by AIDS in Africa. Being in fourth grade I didn’t know what to make of the situation. It seemed so unfair to me that this number of children my age were suffering, as the pictures showed, while every night my parents tucked me into my comfortable bed. I knew I wanted to do something but how could I do something to help these people half way around the world? I decided to play the violin in the embarcadero with my friend and try to raise money. In one hour we raised over $200. This paid for eight children’s school uniforms and a portion of a garden at one of the orphanages. Later we received a thank you letter, making me feel so proud. I knew I wasn’t done helping.
In seventh grade, my class decided that instead of giving each other B’nei Mitzvah gifts, we would raise money to distribute among various non – profit organizations and give tzedakah. Teachers put us in pairs and small groups to research organizations and decide which ones would receive the money we had raised. To do my part, I played violin outside the farmer’s market. Earlier that year, I had done a project about education in Africa and interviewed Karen Ande about it. I learned that AIDS and poor education were closely related. For this new project, I knew I wanted to choose an organization that would help educate and stop the spread of AIDS in Africa.
My partner had a cousin who started a refugee resettlement organization called Mapendo International, which is based in Boston for those suffering in Africa. We decided to give our portion of the Bnei Mitzvah fund to Mapendo.. Mapendo means “great love” in Swahili. This is where the journey began.
Mapendo’s mission statement says that “Mapendo International works to fill the critical and unmet needs of people affected by war and conflict who have fallen through the net of humanitarian assistance…” Mapendo helps resettle and fill the needs of people in Africa who have been misplaced as a result of war or any discrimination due to race or beliefs. After my partner’s cousin found out that we would be donating this money, he asked me to present it at an upcoming fundraiser for Mapendo.
The fundraiser was a life changing experience. When we got there, I met the woman who the organization is named after, Rose Mapendo who had suffered herself as a refugee in the Congo. After I spoke about our project and presented Mapendo with $1,500.00, Rose talked about her painful experience of being a refugee. The soldiers in her country, captured her family and the government imprisoned Rose, her husband and their seven children. That same day the government executed her husband. Rose and the children were not given any food or water. In addition, she gave birth to twins on the bare, dirty, cold prison floor. She sang us the song that she sang to her children every night in prison and started to cry. My eyes welled with tears, but I fought back my tears. I wanted to listen. I tried to imagine myself in her situation and felt guilty that I lead a much more privileged life than she had. Of all the horrific crimes that I have leaned about on the news and in the newspaper, Rose Mapendo’s story moved me the most. I had a close to first hand experience of what millions of people are going through as we speak. Her words touched my heart, unlike anyone has done before. Rose Mapendo represents the millions of people suffering in prisons, refugee camps, losing family members to civil war, singing melodies to their children and praying for a miracle. She and her family luckily fell into the net that Mapendo International created for them, but there are still nations full of people yet to be helped who fell past the net and deeper into the hands of the people who were torturing and oppressing them.
After the event, Rose embraced me. It felt tremendous knowing that I was helping her help so many people. This experience dramatically changed my perspective on everyday life. For instance, anytime I want to buy something gratuitous, I think of Rose Mapendo and the people she represents. I hold myself back because I know that other people like her could be using the money for survival. Because of this experience, I hope to devote a larger part of my life to the enormous number of people who have fallen short of Mapendo’s net.
My family’s unconditional support is the reason I am able fulfill my desire to be part of the solution instead of the world’s problems. My parents have continually exposed me to life outside my own home. They encourage me to support those who cannot support themselves. My journey started with my first footsteps into Karen Ande’s exhibit and now, a freshmen in high school Karen Ande continues to inspire me.
I can thank people who work for Face to Face: Children of the AIDS crisis in Africa, Mapendo International and other organizations for not only changing the lives of forgotten refugees and people suffering from AIDS but changing mine as well.