It sounds self-evident and maybe even trite to assert that aid workers are extraordinary human beings, but it is true. Today we spent the day in Ndjamena meeting with various members of our Solar Cooker Project (SCP) teams in preparation for our journey tomorrow to the refugee camp. The people on the teams come from all over the world. We listened to many of their stories, as we have done on many other of my trips to the area. Many leave behind their husbands or wives and children for months at a time and travel into conflict-laden, very dangerous zones. They are housed in tiny, usually substandard quarters and earn a modest wage. They often live without running water and have no access to most creature comforts. Some flippantly call these aid workers "do-gooders" or "adventure seekers," using the terms in a subtly pejorative sense, somehow insinuating that their motivations are impure. I know this perception prevails because, I am embarrassed to reveal, I actually believed in parts of that stereotype myself until I actually met and began to work with people who are aid workers.
However one wants to classify the people who work with Darfuri refugees, Congolese rape victims, survivors of Hurricane Sandy, or with the too-many-to-mention other survivors of atrocities or natural disasters, it cannot be denied that aid workers save lives which otherwise would have been lost. It is the aid workers who provide the food, water and shelter to survivors of natural disasters and it is aid workers who make it possible for a woman who was the survivor of massive gang rapes to get restorative surgery and a chance to build a new life. Here in Chad, it is the aid workers who provide schools and medical care to the Darfuri genocide survivors. It is the aid workers who make it possible for Jewish World Watch to provide solar cooking opportunities to almost 100,000 refugees so the women and girls do not have to expose themselves to the danger of firewood collection outside the camps. There is not a single project that could be done to help the Darfuri survivors in these camps without an individual willing to leave his or her family, come to this faraway place, and be willing to do the work.
Money can be raised, and brilliant ideas can be generated. From the comfort of their air-conditioned offices, planners and consultants can create models of desired or projected impacts and devise organizational systems to enable the plans to be implemented. All of those functions are important. But, nothing, and I mean nothing, could happen without the willingness of people to work on the ground and in the field, hand to hand, eye to eye with the people in need of services. And, while this may not always be true, even an underfunded or less than stellar idea or plan can be salvaged by a gifted and caring worker in the field.
My co-founder of Jewish World Watch, the great Rabbi Harold Schulweis, has taught frequently about the notion of hakarat hatov -- literally translated as "the recognition of goodness." It was hakarat hatov that inspired Rabbi Schulweis 40 years ago to establish The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which honors and supports Christians who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Being here today with the working partners of Jewish World Watch, experiencing their deep commitment to the people they have come to serve, observing the depth of their expertise, and hearing about the huge and ever-growing breadth of their responsibilities in this tough economic climate inspires me to honor all of our partners that we work with in Chad, CAR, North Kivu and South Kivu. So, here is our message of gratitude to our partners on the ground: Without the work that each of you does, precious lives would be lost in each of the places we work. We are so grateful for your service, and we see each and every one of you as a very special blessing.
There is a mystical notion that when God created human beings, a spark of the divine was secretly implanted within each one. It is each of our life's work to find our spark of the divine and to play a role in helping others find theirs. I have come to believe that people destined to be aid workers are imbued with a double dose of divine sparks; they need these extra sparks to go into the depressing corners of the world where terrible things have happened and to bring hope where otherwise none could be found. It is these workers who not only breathe life back into the bereft genocide survivor, but who also help that survivor re-ignite her own spark.
Thank you to all of you who make our projects come to life and without whom we could never succeed in reaching our goals.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW's work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice is currently traveling along with Diana Buckhantz, JWW Board Member, on a site visit to the JWW Solar Cooker Project in the Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad, home to approximately 30,000 Darfuri refugees.