What’s Keeping Us Hopeful This Winter

This past Thursday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day in the US — a simple if somewhat commercial opportunity to share our love for our partners. It’s easy to take for granted that we can express this love openly and without fear.

But for same-sex couples living in one-third of the world’s countries, this is simply impossible. In 10 of these countries, homosexuality can be punishable by death. Our courageous grantees have taken some big steps recently, including playing a key role in the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 377 of the constitution, which made consensual sex between same-sex adults illegal. 1.3 billion men and women in India have now won their rights to love whomever they want.

Last Spring, when I traveled with 21 AJWS supporters on a Study Tour to India, we visited Samvada Youth Resource Center, a grantee working with LGBTQI youth in rural Karnataka. We met inspiring young women and men developing tools they can use to make a difference. One who stood out for his poise and eloquence was Lohith, a young, self-identified queer man. When asked what his goals are in life, he recited a poem he wrote:

“I want to fly in the higher sky.
I want to sing the Happy Song.
I want everyone to sing with me.
The Happy Song in the higher sky.”

I was so impressed by his courage through his difficult journey — and by the clear love and support he received from the young people around him as they applauded him and later danced and sang together. Investing in grantee organizations like Samvada in rural towns and villages is an investment in the future, a future that will allow young women and men like Lohith to have the same freedom to express their love as we do.

Finally, if you are attending the Jewish Funders Network conference in March, please check out a panel discussion with AJWS President & CEO, Robert Bank; Stanford professor emeritus and AI-pioneer Terry Winograd; and venture capitalist Jocelyn Goldfein. Both Jocelyn and Terry are generous donors to AJWS. They will discuss how the strategies behind investments in tech start-ups can be applied to investment in human rights. The conversation will be based on their article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Four Principles of Venture Funding.” I know it will be a fascinating, engaging conversation.

Thank you for your support of AJWS and our work with transformative organizations like Samvada. It would not be possible without you. Please check out more stories of hope below from our grantees around the world.

With gratitude,
Alon Shalev
Executive Director, San Francisco and the Western Region

Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik

Reimaging What Women and Girls Can Do in India

Meet Kausar: She helps teenage girls in Mumbai gain the confidence to stay in school and pursue careers. She has come a long way since her mother forced her to marry a man who treated her like a servant when she was just 15. Click through these powerful photos of Kausar’s work and learn how she found the strength to forge a new life on her own terms.


Rabbis Bear Witness to Human Rights Work in Guatemala

Photo by Christine Han

Fifteen rabbis. One powerful week in Guatemala. A shared passion for justice. Click through these photos to witness how our Global Justice Fellows were inspired by the human rights defenders they met on their journey to Central America with AJWS.


Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik

From Assailants to Allies: Kenyan LGBTQI Community Finds Support

In coastal Kenya, a group of motorcycle taxi drivers who used to attack and harass LGBTQI people in the streets have become some of the community’s greatest friends and allies. This 1-minute video chronicles how an innovative startup supported by AJWS is promoting tolerance and changing lives.

What We're Reading

Finding Inspiration and Connection in Guatemala

On a recent trip to Guatemala with AJWS, Rabbi Michael Knopf met some of the inspiring human rights activists we support. In an interview for his local Richmond, Virginia paper, he describes the journalists and midwives he met who do their work under challenging circumstances, often at great risk to their personal safety.

Style Weekly

Sri Lankan Women Fish for Their Families

Fishing is usually a job for men in the coastal village of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. But with so many men killed and injured over decades of civil war, women have increasingly been the ones to net fish to feed their families. This article, written by an AJWS grantee, explores how women are stepping into their new roles.

Global Press Journal

Restoring America's Global Human Rights Leadership

We have a vision for the role the United States should play in global human rights: upholding our shared values of liberty, equality and dignity by standing up to dictators and protecting the rights of women, LGBTQI people, ethnic minorities and indigenous people. Read this opinion piece from AJWS’s Director of Government Affairs Rori Kramer to learn more.

The Hill

Rohingya Children Have the Right to Education

More than a million Rohingya refugees now live in sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh, having fled genocide in Burma. One of the tragic byproducts of this crisis, according to a new report, is that a generation of Rohingya children have no access to education. Tun Khin, President of AJWS grantee the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), is quoted in this article and advocates for Rohingya people to be leaders in their communities.

Al Jazeera