The beginning of a new year offers the possibility for a fresh start — to change in ways that will benefit ourselves, the people we love and the world at large. The power to make change is always within us, but sometimes we need a push, like a new year or a significant event in our lives, to inspire us to act.
In this edition of Stories of Hope, we’ve collected stories of AJWS partners who found this strength within themselves, and sprang into action. For many, it just took a spark — the motivation of a local grassroots leader, or the growing energy of a social justice movement — to realize that the power to make change was always theirs.
At AJWS, we’re embracing 2024 by supporting courageous people who have found their power and are harnessing it to change their lives and the world.
The challenges that our grantees faced in 2023 didn’t reset when the clock struck midnight on December 31. Their fights — to expand the rights of women and girls; to defend free and fair elections; to build pride and self-worth among persecuted youth — are ongoing. The activists you’ll meet below have found the strength in themselves to carry on. And the critical work they do is made possible by generous, compassionate people like you.
Read their stories to find your own spark to make change — we know a little hope and inspiration can go a long way right now. Then scroll further to find a very special podcast: an episode of Person Place Thing with Randy Cohen, featuring our very own President and CEO Robert Bank as his special guest. And wrap up with a chance to take action yourself.
Onward — with hope, courage and strength.
Your friends at AJWS
Around the World
In Dandora — one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya — Lucy Wanjiku Njenga was tired of the violence, poverty and dead ends that faced nearly every woman she knew. “All the inequalities we speak of as Black women in this world, we face them here. And we wanted to see if we could change that story,” she said. Read about how Lucy survived tragedy and found the strength in herself to change the lives of thousands of women in Dandora by founding her grassroots organization, AJWS grantee Positive Young Women Voices.
In the Dominican Republic, descendants of people who migrated from neighboring Haiti experience immense persecution, racism and social exclusion — told by society that they are nothing. But AJWS grantee Reconoci.do is teaching young women in this community that they are no less valuable than anyone else. They do so through workshops making handmade dolls with Black skin — and it’s working. “1,000 earthquakes could not separate me from my identity,” says one woman, now filled with pride instead of shame. Learn more about this innovative, inspiring initiative.
Last month, millions of Congolese people headed to the polls to choose their next president and parliament — but many couldn’t vote when they got there, due to faulty voter registries or missing voting machines. Still, the incumbent government declared a landslide victory, the opposition called fraud, and people have taken to the streets and the courts. In the midst of it all, AJWS grantees have played a critical role. Just before the vote, we wrote this piece about Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA), which mobilized 30,000 people to educate voters and monitor the polls. They witnessed the voter obstruction in action, and now are calling for the results to be annulled. Read about their important work for a more peaceful, democratic future.
What We’re Reading and Listening To
Listen to our CEO on Randy Cohen’s latest podcast!
Person Place Thing: Join Emmy Award-winning writer Randy Cohen and our very own Robert Bank for the new episode of Person Place Thing. Robert tells stories about three topics dear to his heart and our mission at AJWS: A hero from his childhood, a community in Kenya fighting an environmental catastrophe and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Listen now >
“Haiti doesn’t need more guns. It needs a new government.”
The New York Times: In October, the United Nations Security Council approved a plan from Kenya to lead a multinational security force to crack down on Haiti’s notorious gang violence. Pierre Espérance, one of Haiti’s most respected pro-democracy activists and executive director of AJWS grantee the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti, explains why more guns are the opposite of what his country needs. Read more >
“Activist Up Close: Meet Samreen, who’s giving women in India options beyond early marriage”
YouTube: Watch the latest video in our Activist Up Close series and get transported to Lucknow, India. You’ll meet Samreen, who was raised in a household where she and her mother weren’t allowed to do anything without her father’s permission, and she was expected to leave school to marry. But she began to question the patriarchal norms that ruled her family — and when she found AJWS grantee Sadbhavana Trust, her world opened up. Watch now >
“Kenya’s land grab is profiting from pain”
Newsweek: Penned by Daniel Kobei, the executive director of longtime AJWS grantee Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, and Gitahi Githuku, AJWS’s program officer in Kenya, this compelling op-ed lays bare how their government has abused the human rights of the Indigenous Ogiek community. In light of recent evictions and violence despite multiple court orders that the government must respect this community, their article is a critical call to action. Read more >
“Welcome to HT El Salvador — A safe space for trans men, supported by AJWS”
YouTube: Get a guided tour of the only community center specifically for trans men in the entire country, led by Joshua Navas, the executive director of AJWS grantee HT El Salvador. Doubling as the organization’s offices, the center is a much-needed safe space for trans men, a population that faces extreme rates of discrimination, violence and homelessness across El Salvador. Watch now >
“In turbulent times, we must keep fighting for human rights”
eJewishPhilanthropy: Last month, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations adopting its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, AJWS President and CEO Robert Bank wrote this piece to examine how the Declaration remains “a roadmap for everyone in the trenches of human rights work, and especially those of us guided by the Jewish values of b’tzelem Elohim and tikkun olam.” Read more >
Take Action with AJWS
Take action for a lifesaving HIV/AIDS program
Without treatment, an HIV diagnosis can become a death sentence. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program founded by President George W. Bush with long-term bipartisan support, has saved 25 million lives since its inception in 2003 through testing, antiretroviral treatment and prevention programs. But some members of Congress are playing politics with people’s health and want to shut down this program for good. Contact your members of Congress today and urge them to save PEPFAR. Take a moment to sign AJWS’s open letter urging the Senate to introduce and pass this important bill.