Last Wednesday’s Limud Clali highlighted service missions that senior Elie Lehmann and Rabbi David Jaffe took to Ghana with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) this past summer to learn about efforts to end child slavery.

Lehmann described the incredible work of James Koffi Anan. Anan was a slave from the age of six who escaped, put himself through high school and college, succeeded as a banker and dedicated his life to ending the slavery of children in the fishing industry through his AJWS supported NGO school, Challenging Heights. 

Jaffe and Lehmann described their service with some of their efforts in building a boarding house, leveling a playing field for sports and assembling bookshelves for classrooms. The focus of the presentation, however, was on the complexities of trying to repair the world, or Tikkun Olam, that they learned from AJWS.  

Although many people have the desire to give, Jaffe challenged the student body to be thoughtful about their giving. For example, clothing donations to Africa often end up hurting the local economy and increasing unemployment.  Jaffe emphasized that we need to ask ourselves, “How should we give?”

The student body had much to say in response. Sophomore Ethan Powell stated that giving will flourish if it can re-generate and be sustainable. An example of this is donating items versus building a school for students to learn in. Senior Missy Kintish questioned the giving process from a financial and administrative perspective, questioning where money actually goes after a donation is made.

Lehmann and Jaffe explained that the AJWS giving policy — which they both had to sign — forces participants to confront hard questions about how best to relate to people you want to help.  The community read the policy that included a clause about not giving any gifts, food or money to people you meet in the host country. The policy was quite controversial with the Gann students and Jaffe and Lehmann discussed their own struggles.

For example, Lehmann recalled that a boy in the streets of Ghana would continuously ask him for food. Despite a food market being close by and a suitcase full of snacks in his dormitory, Lehmann had to say no each time. Another example is when Jaffe was told not to give away his mosquito net at the conclusion of the mission.

The point AJWS wanted to make was that giving away items of any sort can produce an unintended consequence. A hierarchy system within a community can surface, said Lehmann, because people will “worship” items they do not have and will take drastic measures to get it. A gift to one person can create jealousy in the community and even endanger that person’s life after you leave. 

In addition, gift giving also adversely affects future participants by creating an environment of dependence between the locals and the affluent visitors. Jaffe and Lehmann both emphasized the importance of the policy despite their struggles with it. 

This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.