American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

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What is the work your organization is doing?
Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. We pursue lasting change by supporting grassroots and global human rights organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and by advocating for U.S. and international policies for justice and equality worldwide.
To achieve our goals, AJWS focuses our grantmaking and advocacy on five issues we believe are key to creating a world in which all people enjoy equal rights and are free of poverty:
  1. Defending access to food, land and water rights: We empower communities to protest exploitative development conducted without their consent and protect the land, water and natural resources that they depend on for survival.
  2. Promoting civil and political rights: We aid communities in their work to recover from civil wars and other conflicts, speak out against injustice, hold their governments accountable for creating and implementing equitable laws, and create vibrant, peaceful societies that respect the rights of all citizens.
  3. Advancing sexual health and rights: We support women, girls and LGBT people so that they can stop violence and discrimination, gain control over their lives and bodies, and live with dignity, safety and health.
  4. Ending child marriage: We seek to end the practice of child marriage—which compels 14 million girls around the world each year to marry before age 18, often against their will—so that girls can determine their own futures.
  5. Aiding communities in the aftermath of disasters: From earthquakes to tsunamis to genocides to epidemics, AJWS provides immediate humanitarian relief and stays the course with long-term support for recovery—focusing on building more just and equitable societies in the wake of disasters.
How does AJWS work to support Indigenous people/communities/movements?
Across all five of our programmatic issue areas and in every region where we work, AJWS is committed to assisting Indigenous people and communities in their efforts to overcome injustice and achieve social, economic and political equality. We do this by funding Indigenous-led grassroots organizations and social movements working to end discrimination and exploitation of Indigenous people in all sectors of society, and to elevate Indigenous voices in local and national decision-making. In their pursuit of justice and equality, these grantees are:
  • Educating and empowering Indigenous communities to learn about and exercise their human rights, assume leadership roles in their communities, and organize local responses when their rights are violated
  • Promoting the political participation of Indigenous communities in national politics and decision-making
  • Speaking out and advocating against government and corporate-backed projects that encroach on Indigenous people’s land and waterways—including dams, mines and plantations developed without their consent
  • Working to prevent the hunger, poverty, and loss of cultural heritage and identity that results when development projects displace Indigenous people from the land they depend on for their physical and cultural survival
  • Conducting political and legal advocacy to stop violations of the civil rights of Indigenous people—including discrimination in the workplace, health care sector, and justice and education systems—and to protect the rights of Indigenous rights activists
  • Improving the safety and security of Indigenous leaders and communities whose work places them at risk of harassment, arrest and even physical attack
  • Ensuring that, in the aftermath of disasters, the voices Indigenous people are reflected in humanitarian responses and life-saving aid reaches Indigenous communities
  • Forging coalitions and alliances with other grassroots groups in their countries and regions to create stronger movements for collective Indigenous rights
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Share a lesson learned from working with Indigenous people/communities/movements.
AJWS has learned that Indigenous people and communities must be at the center of all advocacy efforts to protect, defend and advance their rights. In the absence of these voices, national and international advocacy initiatives can fail to address the real needs of Indigenous people and communities. Recognizing this, AJWS invests heavily in local and grassroots Indigenous movements and organizations, supporting them to draft their own advocacy agendas and connect with national and international allies that can help them bring those agendas forward.
We have also learned that the best way to support the safety, security and well-being of Indigenous leaders is by building their capacity to protect themselves before they are harassed, detained or physically attacked for their work. Instead of providing emergency funding after an incident or attack occurs, we weave support for safety and security training into our mid- to long-term grants to Indigenous organizations that face or may face threats. By helping these organizations better protect their staff, offices and information, we reduce the risk of incidents from occurring in the first place.
Give an example of an AJWS grantee and explain how their work is making a difference.
Across the developing world, AJWS grantees are leading the charge to safeguard and advance the collective rights of Indigenous people. For example:
In Burma’s Shan State, Kaung Rwai Social Action Network (KSAN) trains youth—the majority of whom are from the Pa-O ethnic nationality—to become activists, community leaders and human rights educators. In 2015, KSAN activists campaigned on behalf of displaced people who had fled fighting between the government and ethnic groups vying for control of the area’s natural resources. With KSAN’s support, the Pa-O youth held community discussions and crafted demands for the safe return of displaced people. These young activists appeared on local and national media to bring this cause to the country’s attention. KSAN also engages youth to solve pressing local problems related to violence, land rights and the government’s authoritarian control. When Burmese police in one area seized land from local communities to build a new police station, more than 100 KSAN youth signed a petition requesting the Shan State government to intercede. Their petition was successful, with the authorities ordering the police to release the land—more than 400 acres—back to the villagers.
 
Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) works to address a range of issues and challenges affecting the land, culture and livelihoods of Indigenous Liberians, such as illegal logging and land grabs by foreign companies. In 2012, SDI linked up with an Indigenous community that was peacefully protesting a palm oil company’s expansion onto their ancestral lands. SDI educated community members on their land rights and facilitated their transport to meet with local and national government officials—including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. They also raised the profile of the community’s case in the media and trained community members to use GPS technology to map the boundaries of their territory. The Liberian government ultimately sided with the people, and the company has pulled back from the community’s lands.
Colectivo Oaxaqueño en Defensa del Territorio (CODT) works to protect the rights of Indigenous communities in Mexico to ancestral lands threatened by extractive industries and mega-development projects, with a focus on mining companies. Over the years, CODT has successfully demanded corporate and government accountability for murders, threats, violence and other human rights violations perpetrated against Indigenous communities by mining companies. They have also helped stop or prevent mining companies from expanding into Indigenous lands by successfully pressing the government to declare at least two territories mining-free zones—a major victory for people living in the areas, whose health, livelihoods and cultures were under threat.
Asociación de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies Nuevo Horizonte trains and empowers indigenous Q’eqchi’ women in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, to understand their rights, become politically active and address problems facing their communities. Thanks to the confidence and skills they have gained, Q’eqchi’ women now regularly represent Q’eqchi’ women and girls in local government meetings, where women’s voices were previously absent. The group has also waged a community awareness campaign aimed at reducing sexual and domestic violence. Their advocacy led Alta Verapaz to increase resources for the Municipal Office for Women, which is charged with reducing gender-based violence and addressing other trends that negatively affect women and girls.