As I spoke with friends and relatives as I prepared for my nine-day trip to Kenya and Uganda, I struggled to find the right words to describe my reason for travel. I informed people that it was a trip designed to inform and educate young Jewish professionals on the impact Israel has on Kenya and Uganda. Prior to my leaving I had only a vague sense of the relationship Israel and these countries share.

The first day of the trip we met with Eyal David, deputy of the ambassador to Israel who serves as deputy ambassador to five East African countries, including Kenya and Uganda. Despite my sleep deprivation after a long flight and early wake-up, Eyal’s dedication and passion to improve the lives of Kenyans and Ugandans energized me. We were fortunate to have Eyal join us for the majority of the trip, where his commitment and passion were apparent.

The investment and commitment that Eyal displays for his work with Kenyan and Ugandan communities was also shared by members of the Kenyan and Ugandan partnerships we met. We met Kenyan alumni of an Israeli training program that showed us how the knowledge they gained while in Israel has allowed them to improve their community.

Albert Kamatu was able to transform his home into a farm by incorporating the modern farming methods that he gained through MASHAV, Israel’s international development agency. He also mentors a group of young adults in farming and we were introduced to a student that he mentors. Another farmer, Zipporah (Zippy) Njoki Wahome, was trained by Kenarava, young Kenyan farmers who learned agricultural practices in Israel. She has made an impressive three-acre farm, which includes a greenhouse. She shares the same mission as Kenarava, to give individuals the ability to feed their country. Zippy uses the skills she continues to develop through her partnership with Kenarava to empower young women to be farmers. This is particularly important since the majority of farmers in Kenya are older males.

Throughout our trip, we saw how the Israeli government and Israeli NGOs are helping provide individuals and communities with the skills and resources to be successful so they can continue the valuable work of helping their own community members. Kenya’s Brydges Skills Development Centre, whose director is a MASHAV alumnus, works to empower young women with sustainable skills they need to be successful in life. They teach students social skills and various trades ranging from cosmetology to cell phone repair. I had the opportunity to speak with a young woman who was very appreciative of the support that Israel has given to her school. The young woman shared her wish to be a teacher with me.

I had a similar experience visiting an orphanage on the Osanidde Village in Uganda. I danced and spoke with a boy named Robert who wanted to know what I did for a job. When I informed him that I taught, his face lit up. He told me that he wanted to be a teacher too. He also wanted to know if I had music in my country. Again, he was excited by my response when I informed him that I did.

At the beginning of my trip I wasn’t sure what to expect. I entered the trip with an open mind. I knew I was going to learn about the partnership that Israel has with the Ugandan and Kenyan communities. However, I did not expect to be able to witness how impactful and thoughtful Israel’s efforts are by promoting sustainable change in these countries. I am also taking away the message that I have much in common with the Israeli, Kenyans and Ugandans who I have met. We all have a desire, hope and passion to improve the lives of others.

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JoAnne Ovadia PhotoJoAnne Ovadia is a dedicated elementary school reading specialist who works in a large urban school district. She is committed to meeting the needs of her diverse students. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Clark University and a M.Ed. in the consulting teacher of reading program from Lesley University. She lives in Brookline with her furbaby, Fenway. She has been involved in a variety of organizations in the Jewish community. JoAnne has participated in LEADS, became a LEADS leader and was involved in the early days of JCRC’s ReachOut!, where she served as a site captain and served on the steering committee. JoAnne loves keeping active. She enjoys walks and hikes, and loves a good cardio dance class. She is looking forward to sharing her trip with her students who read about Kenya.