A helping hand in Mumbai

MOVED by the poverty and injustice he witnessed on a business trip to India last year, Melbourne-born Jacob Sztokman has set up a world-first volunteering program for young Jewish adults.

Having launched this year, Gabriel Project Mumbai partners poverty relief with active partnership in the Indian Jewish community, offering 20 to 28-year-olds the chance to volunteer in Mumbai’s slums for three to four months, preparing food for children and teaching them English.

“I spoke to people living in the slums and asked questions about the challenges they are facing, and the whole experience touched me deeply,” said Sztokman, who is a sales and marketing professional.

“Children, even as young as five or six, could work on the streets and bring a couple of cents a week to the family to purchase food. If the children were in class they could not work or contribute to the family and the family would literally starve,” he said.

The new program is a partner of the Reach Education Action Program (REAP) and promotes education by providing meals to children who attend school.

Gabriel Project Mumbai also employs over 150 Indian women, who assist with meal preparation.

“What makes this program so unique, and in my opinion amazing, is that we are able to address both long-term and short-term needs with such a simple solution. By providing hot meals in school, we are alleviating hunger, promoting health and nutrition, and at the same time enabling children to stay in school, which is the most important mitigating factor in the long term for changing their lives,” said Sztokman.

Workshops on social justice from a global and Jewish perspective, responsible volunteering, international development, and global poverty, as well as basic Hindi and Marathi language classes and Jewish history lessons are also run for participants in conjunction with the local Indian Jewish community.

The cost of the one-month Southern Hemisphere program is approximately $US1000. Day volunteer programs are also available for people visiting Mumbai.

For more information, or to apply, visit www.gabrielprojectmumbai.org.