Yotam Polizer tells the story of being in Nepal after a devastating earthquake hit in 2015. The IsraAID co-CEO watched 21 bodies being pulled out of a collapsed building 130 hours after the earthquake took place that killed 10,000 and displaced a million. That’s when the last survivor was pulled out.
Polizer, his co-CEO Voni Glick, and the senior director of programming Naama Gorodischer were in Minneapolis earlier this week, working on some long-term planning with The Beverly Foundation, a local funder of their work on the island of Dominica; Jewfolk staff and some community members were invited to an educational session to learn about the organization. They are currently in the second year of a five year commitment to be on the Caribbean island of Dominica, one of the islands that was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
“The needs are long-term [in disaster-affected communities] Polizer said. “It’s great to be first on the ground, but it’s better to stay.”
Staying is a big part of what IsraAID has done. In 2018, they finished up nearly eight years of work in Haiti.
“We believe that a disaster is an opportunity for meaningful intervention,” Polizer said. “We’re using technology to build back the community better and [show them] how they can be better prepared for the next disaster.”
IsraAID brings trauma specialists to affected areas to train local residents to help the community. Polizer said that treating trauma and getting clean water for residents are often the two biggest needs – and which happen to be two primary areas of Israeli expertise.
The organization was founded in 2001, and the need for it has doubled in the last three years.
“In a world that has become more unstable with disasters and extreme climate, people can’t rely on things remaining where they are,” Glick said. “There is a get-up and go attitude that is part of the Israeli ethos.
“Israeli’s don’t like to take no for an answer. There’s a certain resourcefulness.”
IsraAID is also trying to teach college students that resourcefulness. This summer is the third year of the IsraAID Humanitarian Fellowship, which took 15 of more than 200 applicants. The fellows commit to a two-month summer of immersive field work and then hosting four campus events to fundraise and increase community awareness.
Fellows would have the opportunity to be involved in ongoing programs that range from supporting Syrian refugees, helping victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Dominica, or taking part in one of their longer-term projects in Kenya or the Philippines.
Over the next three years, Polizer said he wants IsraAID to be recognized for its work in building community resiliency, hopefully to a point where they would not be needed after the next disaster.
“We want to be the best in the field and be more professionalized,” said Polizer. “In the last two years, we’ve identified our core areas. Now we want to strengthen that and be recognized for our work in community resiliency.”
Editor’s note: The Beverly Foundation is also a funder of the work of Jewfolk, Inc., the parent organization of TCJewfolk.