B’rith Kodesh WRJ, Rochester, NY
Judy poses with the new friends she made at the secondary school.
It was through the participation of Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) in the project “Pads for Power,” making personal hygiene pads for Sudanese village girls, that I had the amazing opportunity to join a volunteer service mission in the village of Atiaba, Sudan, in May 2010. Members of St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA, had developed this project based on their observation, during previous missions, of the young girls’ need for personal hygiene pads so they could attend school regularly. WRJ learned about “Pads for Power” through the networking of Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues at The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, St. James Episcopal Church, and Katie Roeper, then chair of the WRJ Department on Programming and Advocacy, and introduced it to our sisterhoods.
My sisterhood, B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY, and about seven other North American sisterhoods, joined this initiative. While we were sewing, I suggested that we try to raise funds to buy a treadle sewing machine for this village, and learned that there was a machine we could purchase. Sufficient funds were raised by the involved sisterhoods in only nine days- and we were able to buy two machines!
After several months of wondering, I decided to inquire about going to Sudan with the Richmond team. My contact, Angie, at St. James’s, explained that I would be able to join their relief team if there was a spot, as only eight people could go to Sudan in May of 2010. She would know how many by January or February. On February 9, 2010, the call came, there were only five going so far. I am a teacher by profession and asked if I would be able to do a little teaching in the primary school. Angie replied that school was under a tree and I would need to bring all of my own supplies. I taught the children action songs at each of their classrooms under a tree, as music is the universal language. Their smiles were beautiful and their laughter was music to my ears.
We stayed at a Mustard Seed medical clinic in Akot, three miles from Atiaba. There were two nurses and one pediatrician on our team and I joined them as they did rounds with the resident doctor from North Carolina. He has volunteered to work at this clinic for the past five years. I learned that the clinic had begun to use the pad kits for the moms after they deliver their babies, so I delivered some to the clinic’s storeroom. It was wonderful to learn that there was another important use for them.
This “medical” team and I did eye exams at the secondary school in Atiaba and found several students who really were sight impaired. I recently learned that all received their glasses within three months, which was truly remarkable! The pads are definitely being used and needed at the secondary school and the sewing machine there is in working order. The girls at the school received several pad kits. I also participated in Career Day and observed the weekly debate at the school. Both were impressive events. These students are in college preparatory classes.
At the end of November, I was in Richmond, VA, to speak to the congregation of St. James’s Church, along with two others from the team, to tell them of my wonderful experience and encourage them to go on the relief mission this May.
A referendum will be held on January 9, 2011, because southern Sudan wants to separate from northern Sudan. There is great fear that a civil war will result. While I was in Richmond, I learned that as a precaution and in anticipation of the possibility of war, the secondary school term ended two weeks early so that the teachers, who are all from Uganda, could travel safely home in plenty of time. This was also done for the safety of the students, so they will no longer be out on the road walking or biking to and from school. There is also the possibility that the Mustard Seed clinic will close temporarily so that the US doctor can either return stateside or travel to another African country where he will be safe. The clinic would be a target and they plan to have it completely evacuated so no one will be harmed.
The Pads project is ongoing and more pads are always needed. Please email me: email@example.com or call me 585.442.5111 for more information.
Judy Schwartz is a former member of the Women of Reform Judaism Board of Directors and chair of social action, WRJ Northeast District.