05/15/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Africa: Why Bother?


JWW Board Members Janice Kamenir-Reznik, Diana Buckhantz, and Diane Kabat in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo at a transit house for liberated sex slaves and orphan babies. JWW is in the process of acquiring land to build a new facility for these children, including a school house.

As the president of Jewish World Watch, I encounter one question, again and again: why do you bother? The question can creep up slowly in conversation. Someone will remark, "Well, is there anything we can really do to help those suffering in Africa? Aren't you just proposing band aids, not solutions?" Others convey the sentiment more bluntly. With a wave of a hand they will say, "Oh... Africa... What do you expect? It will never change. We should not get involved in that mess over there. "

Africa has no shortage of sad or bad news that drives this sense of exasperation. This month, a terrorist group in Nigeria kidnapped more than 200 young girls to be sold as brides. In the Central African Republic, hundreds have been killed and two million people are in desperate need of immediate humanitarian assistance. In South Sudan, thousands of civilians have been murdered and millions have been displaced in a new round of violence. Militias continue to rape women, enslave children, and murder hundreds in Congo. And a campaign of ethnic cleansing continues to plague Darfur.

What we can do? After many trips to Africa, and 10 years of working on these issues nearly every day, I can say with confidence -- quite a bit!

I've seen firsthand so many remarkable projects and advocacy efforts that truly change lives and transform whole regions.

Jewish World Watch's Solar Cooker Project now serves 125,000 Darfuri refugees in Chad. It has prevented thousands of rapes -- and many deaths -- by allowing women and girls to avoid the danger of leaving their refugee camps. In Congo, hundreds of women who would have died from their injuries are now alive because we built the Chambucha Rape and Trauma Center, and hundreds of children -- most of whom are former child soldiers or war orphans -- have an opportunity for a brighter future with the support of educational programs and housing.

It's the advocacy work of groups like Jewish World Watch that has driven legislation to demilitarize mines in Congo and pushed companies such as Intel to develop conflict-free products, depriving warlords of the blood money that they need to murder.

I am about to leave on my ninth trip to Africa with Jewish World Watch. We will meet with Congolese men who are working to change the social norms that blame the rape victim and excuse the rapist. We will visit street children and orphans. We will meet the victims of rape and violence, and the liberated child soldiers who were forced to kill.

These people are the reason that we bother. We bother because those being killed, raped, and kidnapped are human beings who deserve our attention. We bother because they matter, just as our relatives in Europe should have mattered to the rest of the world. We bother because we are human, because we are Jews, because if saving lives is a bother, then what kind of partners are we with God in this world? We bother, because as our scripture says, "If we save one life it is as though we saved the entire world."

Originally appeared on May 12, 2014 in The Jewish World Watch Blog: One Life at a Time hosted by The Jewish Journal.