AJWS Week 1

The Organization

My first week at American Jewish World Service provided for a joyful, eye-opening experience. This summer, I am working as the Experiential Education Intern for the organization. To set the scene, AJWS is a non-profit organization based out of New York, founded nearly 30 years ago by Brandeis’s own Professor Larry Simon. Their mission states: “inspired by the Jewish commitment to Social Justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”

To bring this vision to life, the organization focuses on two spheres of empowerment that together embody one transformative force of global justice. The first sphere works domestically, with the focus of:

  1.  Creating a greater critical consciousness of inequality and global struggles for human rights through outreach and education.
  2. Mobilizing political activism to end regressive US international policies that harm millions of people abroad and inhibits development.
  3. Leveraging the resources of our communities and nation as a whole to make the second sphere of the AJWS’s work – the international operations – possible.

This second component, the international work, serves to advance the goals of fighting poverty and progressing human rights by awarding grants to hundreds of grassroots organizations in marginalized communities throughout 19 developing countries, focusing on pressing issues from land rights and sustainable livelihoods, to gender inequality and health care.This approach to international development speaks to the very core of AJWS’s values – that people on the ground know best what is needed to create change. And with the solidarity and support of AJWS, these local (yet global) leaders and movements can make major strides towards a more just world.


This young woman from AJWS grantee Southern Farmers Alliance, in Thailand, is using sustainable agriculture practices to increase local food yields. PHOTO  James Robert Fuller
This young woman from AJWS grantee Southern Farmers Alliance, in Thailand, is using sustainable agriculture practices to increase local food yields. PHOTO James Robert Fuller


Experiential Education

Reflecting on my role as the experiential education intern and the EE department as a whole, I have come to see that how this work exists at a crossroads among the organization’s duality of operations, one that I find to be very deep. In rooting the educational approach in experience and critical reflection, the learning and pedagogy that AJWS brings to our communities is undoubtedly unique and visionary. It immerses the American (and for many of the supporters, Jewish) identity and existence into challenging truths of global injustice, while always shining a light down the road towards justice. And there is no better place to encounter both sides of this coin – the difficult realities of the world and hopeful future – than in the courageous work of the grantees

These encounters allow us to see that the narratives of “us” and “them” are but one – now ever apparent as we experience the forces of globalization and confront world-wide collective challenges like climate change. In contextualizing our separate existences into one shared struggle, we are empowered to launch down a powerful path towards more informed, compassionate, and productive change. This process of critical reflection and action, often called praxis, is most eloquently described by the late Paulo Freire as the pursuit of “the vocation for humanization.” To come into work and be a part of an education which serves to make us more fully human is a truly beautiful thing.

AJWS program participants establish relationships that, inspiring their activism and advocacy on global justice issues long into the future. PHOTO  Melissa Sobin
An AJWS travel program participant and a host-site collaborator. PHOTO Melissa Sobin


Beginning Work

As for my own role, the first week comprised of a fair amount of learning about the organization and discovering what I can bring to the EE department and their initiatives. There is a pleasant irony in holding an internship with this department. In being surrounded by a group of unbelievable, thoughtful, and witty educators, the learning curve was a dynamic, informative, and fun-filled process with great intentionality.

The EE department is now in full throttle working to implement a brand new program called the Global Justice Fellowship (GJF). The GJF is a yearlong program for American Jewish leaders to facilitate the deepening of knowledge and engagement with global justice issues and give them the tools to better mobilize for change. For me, seeing first-hand the process of crafting and implementing this fellowship is an exciting new lens of engaging with an educational pedagogy that I have long sought out and experienced from the student perspective. At AJWS, the process it is certainly collaborative, innovative, and detailed. My work thus far entails supporting a few projects related to the GJF, and in the coming weeks will also include helping to reach out to alumni of various programs in addition to helping create a capstone homage to the work of the service trips that AJWS ran for many years, which are now coming to a close. More details to come as the internship proceeds!


Happily sitting at my desk at the AJWS's New York office.
Sitting happily at my work station in the New York office.

 – Samuel Porter ’14

One thought on “AJWS Week 1”

  1. Dear Samuel,

    This truly is a very informative post about the nature and current manifestation of social justice projects and initiatives. The dynamic processes you describe at your work sound very engaging, and I look forward to hearing more about your future endeavors.
    I just had a question for you about the nature of social justice. From my experiences at Brandeis, and elsewhere, mostly social justice appears to be very collaborative. Through the collective efforts of few or many, change can be made with the support of others. But there are moments when I’ve seen a single individual, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a catalyst for social change who inspired others. Yet still even he gained a following to encourage social change. So is social justice, at its core, collaborative, or can individuals pursue this on their own?

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