Home June 2010 LIFE Gets it Right

LIFE Gets it Right

It was a hot night in Hyderabad, India, but Josh Zuckerman from Michigan was getting used to the climate. He felt great about what he was doing. When he graduated from Southern Illinois University where he studied international politics and economics, he decided to take a year to bridge between study and work.  He wanted to gain international work experience, broaden his horizons, and explore his roots. Before going into the U.S. employment mainstream he joined LIFE, an international social sector leadership development program. LIFE participants spend four months in India and five months in Israel. That night in India, Josh was out with his LIFE peers and their Indian friends – as bright and diverse as they are friendly.

Josh interned at the Byrraju Foundation, and there was a lot riding on his success. Byrraju delivers clean drinking water to three million people in poor rural areas of Andhra Pradesh. The foundation, which has won several international prizes for producing quality drinking water, is now working hard to increase the number of people who use the water in each village. Old traditions have a life of their own, and though the Byrraju water is available, many people prefer to take water directly from the ponds and wells their parents and grandparents used. Using this impure water contributes to illness, lost work days, chronic and severe diseases, high infant mortality rates, and low life expectancy. Always problematic, these sources are now increasingly debilitating through contamination from overuse and chemical seepage.

Josh used the knowledge he had gained in college, under the guidance of the director of the water program, to help work out how to encourage more people to use the clean water. He was getting invaluable, real-life experience in a large, professional NGO that could put his skills to good use, and he had the opportunity to make a real difference on a large scale.

While initially thinking he might travel alone, Josh applied to the LIFE program because it was a “win-win” that offered him everything he wanted. He would have an immersion experience in both India – where he had always wanted to travel – and Israel where he wanted to spend more time. He would be with overseas and Israeli peers. The program offered custom-tailored internships in both countries that suited his skills and ambitions. He would have an initial month in Israel, learning, doing cultural sensitivity training, internalizing the context for the rest of the nine months.

According to Josh, “LIFE is an opportunity that should not be passed up.  If you are thinking of working in the social sector or non-profit organizations, LIFE will not disappoint you. There are priceless lessons to be learned about social justice, Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”), varied Jewish topics, environment, water allocation, human rights, community organizing, social entrepreneurship, and the business management needed in the social sector today. I would recommend LIFE to any open-minded, hard-working, and thoughtful individual.  It doesn’t matter what you studied or where you have worked. LIFE encompasses a holistic vision to which everyone can contribute and help advance social justice and Tikkun Olam.”

When he later returned to Israel, LIFE placed Josh with the three-month-old Sustainability Unit in the Jerusalem Deputy Mayor’s Office. There he identified how other cities around the world had created policies to advance sustainable urban living. He created an informational handbook – with policy recommendations and international examples to help key staff become familiar with this emerging field and the new, city-wide policy focus.

Says Josh, “As I would walk around and meet people, initially no one would really know who I was, what sustainability meant or what it could offer the city. By the time I finished, I had been invited to present my report to several forums and the guide was starting to be widely used.”

The experience and skills Josh has acquired in India and Israel put him way ahead of his fellow-graduate competitors applying for the same jobs. He adds, “I think I was lucky because I left right as the economic crisis hit the US.  While I was sadly listening to my friends back home saying that they lost their jobs or couldn’t find any, I was making a difference in India working for a world-class NGO and in Jerusalem getting experience in the Deputy Mayor’s Office.”
This is what we are offering Jewish graduates aged 21 to 30 from all over the world.  We do our very best to tailor the work the graduate will do in Israel and in India to his or her areas of expertise and interest. We have placed people in health care, education, microfinance, disability rights, poverty reduction, legal policy, women’s status, and more, including:

In Israel

  • Establish a “Doctors without Borders” style initiative, now active in Haiti.
  • Improve the status of women in the workplace through a national policy initiative.
  • Initiate alternative healing methods in an NGO working with people with post-trauma.

In India

  • Create a new, interactive arts program for children in 200 villages.
  • Increase access of disadvantaged populations to health care in thousands of rural villages.
  • Recommend improvements in the implementation of a law against child labor.

LIFE participants do not do direct service work, as important as that is. Internships usually relate to program development, evaluation, policy, and capacity building; they take on professional projects and need to deliver concrete outcomes. It is demanding – especially considering the short time frame and the linguistic and cultural barriers. The social sector is often about achieving results in challenging circumstances. LIFE participants want to be supported, but not protected; they relish this sort of real life experience.

While the internships form the core of the program, there is informal learning all along the way with seminars, field trips, peer learning, and personal and group projects. Says Naomi Segal, who is committed to alternative health practices, “LIFE has been more incredible than I expected. I have met inspiring pioneers from all walks of life who have helped me to focus on the goals I want to set for myself and to take the necessary steps towards the world I envision for the future. LIFE has proved to be a life-changing program with constant inspiration through thought-provoking experiences, seminars, conversations, and hands-on projects.”

Shachar Reem, an Israeli headed for a career in applied anthropology in international settings, adds, “LIFE has been a fulfilling experience for me in so many ways. In traveling to new places, you are constantly exploring new cultures, making friends from all around the globe, and living in a multi-cultural environment. The opportunity to intern with a successful Indian NGO has been a crucial step in my growth and understanding of work in the social justice area. We have had daily contact with experienced professional people, not to mention sessions and seminars, new ideas and explorations, all a part of daily life.”

Applications for LIFE in 2010-11, starting October 12, 2010, are now being accepted. For more information and to apply, go to www.LIFEprogram.org or contact Yonatan Glaser, director (Mobile: +972-50-2208308; e-mail: yonatan@btzedek.org.il; Skype: yonglaser; Facebook: Become a LIFE fan at: LIFE – Social Justice Fellowship in Israel and India.

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  1. What a terrific program for Jewish young adults seeing adventure, travel and leadership development in India and israel.


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