• Synagogue & Community Center
• Tobin Health Center
• Economic Development
While community health is important, other systems need be in place in order for the Health Center to be successful. The Abayudaya Jewish community is shifting from being donor reliant to being entrepreneurial and self-sustaining. Community development projects provide jobs and income for individuals to pay for utilities and healthcare.
Plans for the Synagogue
Students enrolled at the Yeshiva
Students enrolled at the Yeshiva
A Synagogue & Community Center is part of a strategic vision to ensure the health and security of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda today, and for generations to come. Be’chol Lashon and the leadership of the Abayudaya are launching a capital project to build a new Synagogue and Community Center. This project is part of the Community Health & Development Plan that sucessfully constructed the Tobin Health Center in downtown Mbale and the Abayudaya Guest House.
The Abayudaya community is thriving under the leadership of Rabbi Sizomu. As the Abayudaya population increases, the community is struggling to accommodate all who want to participate in religious services in their existing synagogue. In addition, the existing space is ill-suited to function as a community space for health and educational programs that are needed to sustain the growth and development of the Jewish community.
A Synagogue and Community Center is vital for the heath and well-being of the Abayudaya community. Challenges such as food scarcity and malaria are part of day-to-day life in Africa. Further, the extreme minority status of the Jews in Uganda requires that the Abayudaya leadership not only attract and maintain involvement in Jewish life, but also address the health and community needs of their Christian and Muslim neighbors.
The new Synagogue and Community Center will be a place where Jewish life is strengthened from one generation to the next, a place to gather and celebrate that can be a foundation for the local community and serve as a model and hub for emerging Jewish communities in Africa. The Center will be a place for religious worship, lifecycle events, education, childcare, and health and social services that will benefit the entire community. In the tradition of Diaspora communities around the world, the Abayudaya will elevate the surrounding communities while helping the Jewish community thrive.
• Jewish Leadership Training / Yeshiva
Building a sustainable Jewish community in Africa requires that both local religious leaders and those from neighboring countries have a yeshiva to train and develop their practice. One student, Alex Armah from the House of Israel community in Ghana, received a Be’chol Lashon Educational Fellowship to travel to Uganda to study at the yeshiva. “Rabbi Sizomu is teaching us that the challenge of leadership is in living up to the community’s aspirations,” Armah commented. Currently, there are eight students enrolled in the yeshiva but many more are interested. The Synagogue and Community Center will provide additional space for the yeshiva.
• Family Planning and Childcare
The Abayudaya community is egalitarian and encourages their young women to obtain college degrees. Women are faced with the universal challenge of balancing their desire for education and work with having a family. In Uganda the concept of institutional childcare is still new, but the need is growing. In an effort to ensure the active participation of women in society, family planning and childcare efforts delivered at the Synagogue and Community Center will contribute to strengthening the economic viability of the community and the well-being of families.
• Food Security
Most Ugandans in the Mbale area are subsistence farmers who are at the mercy of the ebb and flow of the harvest seasons in order to feed their families. There is a need for a communal space to store food for the months of the year when food is scarce. The Synagogue and Community Center will include space where community members can store or tithe surplus grains during times of abundance. The food storage program is essential to not only adressing hunger among the Abayudaya, but creating a model for sustainable food management in the region.
Tobin Health Center Lab
Tobin Health Center Nurses
The Abayudaya Executive Council voted unanimously to build a health center in Summer, 2009. It was decided that it would be centrally located in Mbale providing more accessible health care to all villagers.
The Heath Center is named in honor of Be’chol Lashon co-founder Gary z”l. In June 2010, Be'chol Lashon director, Diane Tobin, and her family traveled to Uganda to dedicate the Tobin Heath Center. View the podcast.
The completed 4,000 square foot facility has two stories with 20 rooms, including rental space for businesses. Unlike many clinics in town, there is a generator to handle the frequent power outages in Uganda. It is licensed by the Ministry of Health and the health inspector was impressed by the seriousness of the project and gave the health center an excellent recommendation. The Tobin Health Center is making a significant contribution to the health and well being of not only to the Abayudaya but to the larger community as well. Unrestricted access to affordable medical care has provided hope to so many. In 2011, there were no deaths reported from malaria!
The infant mortality rate in Uganda is high. Many women give birth at home in their village and never seek pre- or post- natal care. Often the conditions are not sanitary and both mother and child contract tuberculosis. With the help of Be’chol Lashon, the Tobin Health Center secured diagnostic equipment including, ultra sound machine, x-ray and a chemistry analyzer in 2011. The diagnostics department has attracted more patients needing pre and post natal care, while also adding an important revenu stream into the Tobin Health Center.
In order to provide excellent patient care, the Tobin Health Center is looking forward to growing in the future—procuring additional medical equipment, hiring more staff, and serving more patients.
Education about preventing disease significantly reduces a variety of health concerns, particularly malaria, the primary cause of death in Africa.
One of the best ways to improve healthcare is to prevent people from getting sick.
Nabagoye water tap
Water, the Gift of Life
The feasibility report revealed that the only available source of clean water was from wells located long distances from the villages. Because of lack of access to clean water and sanitation, the villagers resorted to getting water from ditches, rivers, wetlands, and lakes, which are usually polluted with human and animal excrement, hence suffering related diseases. Additionally, women were primarily responsible for manually pumping the water and carrying it back to their homes. This included young girls carrying "jerry cans" or 20 kgs (44lb) water containers-that were sometimes close to their own weight. Since women were responsible for collecting water they wasted valuable time where more productive work could have been achieved. This task also kept a number of girls out of school hence dooming them to illiteracy. Therefore, deprivation of water and sanitation perpetuated gender inequality and disempowered women.
Water, a basic human right, is at the heart of a daily crisis faced by millions of the world's most vulnerable people. Delivering clean water, removing wastes from water, and improving sanitation are the three of the most basic foundations for human progress facing Africa. The first step in providing healthcare is providing water for sanitation. Be’chol Lashon launched the Abayudaya Community Health & Development Project in March 2007 with the drilling of the first well in Nabagoye, followed by Namanyoni, Nangolo, Nasenyi and Namutumba. The wells and tap stands have had a significant impact on the populations in the region. Since the start of the well projects, the child mortality rate has been significantly reduced.
Malaria is the primary cause of death in Uganda and since mosquitoes breed in water, it is important to provide the tools to avoid disease. This includes mosquito nets over beds. A study featured in a New York Times article dated October 9, 2007 cites the success of net distribution in the fight malaria, "...insecticide-filled nets, when used by 80% or more of a village, create a barrier that kills or drives off mosquitoes, protecting everyone in the area, including those without nets…"
Thousands of mosquito nets have been purchased and distributed through the local synagogues. The net distributions provide an opportunity for the village health workers to educate the community about preventing malaria and other diseases. A mother who was pregnant said, “I lost my first born to malaria… thank you so much for saving my life and that of my child.” The community needs a constant supply of mosquito nets, including replacing those that are old and ineffective, or have holes.
The Be’chol Lashon-Abayudaya partnership provides outstanding social services. At one net distribution the district health officer remarked, “I have been in office for over 12 years working with different NGOs but I have never seen services like the Abayudaya: providing education to over 400 orphans, providing safe water to the community, and distributing treated mosquito nets. The Abayudaya community is an example to the whole Namanyonyi sub-county.” Since the distributions, there have been no malaria-related deaths among the Abayudaya.
Development Fostering Peace
As a minority in the region, the net distributions also provide an opportunity for the Abayudaya to demonstrate their concern and strengthen their status in the community, providing increased security for the Jews. On behalf of the villagers, a local leader then thanked the Abayudaya leaders for their efforts in improving everyone’s health, "It is a sign of a special care for us yet we have been regarding them killers of our lord.” An Abayudaya health worker responded, “Let the mosquito nets bridge the gaps so that we look at each other as brothers and sisters.”
Abayudaya Guest House
The Abayudaya Guest House
Be’chol Lashon built a guest house to capture a desperately needed stream of revenue. The Abayudaya Guest House offers a viable economic development opportunity for the community, allowing them to benefit from the expanding tourist industry. The Abayudaya community host an increasing number of tourists and volunteers each year. The community needed to increase their accommodation capacity. The Abayudaya community members had been hosting individuals in their homes, providing food and lodging without appropriate compensation. The guest house provides a legitimate legitimate business opportunity moving the community towards economic self-sufficiency.
Micro lending is a viable way to start small business projects in the community. Expanding commerce provides much needed jobs and the necessary revenue for the community to support health care systems and utilities. Some entrepreneurial endeavors, such as the motor bike taxis, have been financed by donations and develop into self-sustaining businesses using a micro-credit model.
The Abayudaya women crochet kippot as a source of income. They have also expanded to include jewelry, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, made from recycled magazine beads. Unique Jewelry hand-crafted by Ugandan women of Jewish, Muslim and Christian belief is a beacon of hope, creating peace and cooperation among the villagers. They turn recycled magazines into chic one-of-a-kind necklaces. Each bead is hand cut from recycled magazines, rolled, varnished and then strung on a cord and finished with a clasp. The beaders select colorful wood or elegant metal accent beads to embellish each piece. The women take a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment and pride knowing the work they do helps their families and their community. 100% of the profits go directly back to the community benefitting local health services including clean water, mosquito nets, and the Tobin Health Center.
Abayudaya Executive Council
Abayudaya Community Needs
The democratically elected Abayudaya Executive Council requested that Be'chol Lashon serve as the clearinghouse for long-range planning and financial resource development. Be'chol Lashon conducted feasibility research that resulted in the Abayudaya Health & Development Plan to implement health care delivery and support systems. The most vital Abayudaya community needs are improved disease prevention, healthcare, and developing a sustainable economy. Improved healthcare and community development provided by the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda to their Christian and Muslim neighbors fosters good will and cooperation among the communities.
Be'chol Lashon conducted feasibility research that confirmed that improving healthcare is a critical need for the Abayudaya Jews and their neighbors. A JDC engineer from Israel evaluated the water and electricity in the villages. An American tropical disease specialist (licensed to practice in Uganda) conducted field research regarding health services. Ugandan government officials were also consulted about health services in the Namanyonyi sub-county region.
The research confirmed that improving healthcare is a critical need for the Abayudaya Jews and their neighbors. The nearest medical center to the Abayudaya Jews, Mbale Hospital, is strained to the limit. One of the reasons that the health centers in Africa are severely overcrowded is lack of measures to prevent disease. Lack of clean water and mosquito nets cause diseases such as dysentery, amoebas, infections, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS to flourish. The community suffers high morbidity and mortality rates holding back advances in health, education and economic growth.