Six years ago Judy and John Craig began an effort to combat hunger and poverty in Africa by linking people in drought-stricken areas with Israeli experts in farming and irrigation.
Now, another of their anti-poverty initiatives is getting a boost from a pair of student volunteers at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.
The two eighth-graders — Eliana Arian of Mendham and Adar Naftal of Millburn — have been lending a hand to support Eliminate Poverty Now, the initiative whose slogan is “We are the first generation in the history of the world with the power to eliminate extreme poverty.” Recently, the two girls joined Judy Craig at her Mendham home to pack up the notecards that are sold on the EPN website, with proceeds going to help the needy in many parts of Africa. “We helped her package the cards and envelopes,” said Adar. “When people buy them, their donation helps people in Africa.”
Adar and Eliana talked to NJJN at a table in the Livingston day school’s cafeteria on April 29.
“I decided it would be really cool if we did something here in school” to help poor Africans, said Eliana. “If we told kids our age about it, they could help kids our age in Africa.”
According to Craig, for Eliana, helping EPN is a family affair. She and the other women in her family already collect coins in a large jar at home, talk about the effort with others, and offer suggestions on getting the word out.
The two girls also got involved by sending letters to teens in Kenya and Niger with the aim of learning about each other’s lives.
The Africans they are writing to “are really poor,” said Eliana. “They start having children at the age of 14. A lot of them can’t go to school. They have a lot of children that they have to support, and sometimes they don’t have ways to earn money, and so they have to drop out of school.”
In mid-April Eliana gave a 45-minute presentation about EPN to the eighth-grade girls at Kushner, and, she said, “now almost everyone in our grade is interested in the pen-pal program. I think it’s really important because these are kids our age. Just imagining ourselves in that situation, it seems really important to help them.”
Craig is working to secure pen-pals for the 20 classmates. So far, only female students have been enlisted to make contact with young people in Africa for “a couple of reasons,” said Judy Craig.
The emphasis of the girls’ involvement is the EPN project called Pads for Peace, which, according to Craig, supplies girls with sanitary products. “Girls in Africa don’t have money for sanitary pads, so often they don’t go to school when they have their periods. And if you don’t go to school a week every month, you can’t do well in school. Then you drop out of school, get married at 14, and have babies right away. It’s a terrible cycle.
“If a girl can finish secondary school,” said Craig, “then she can have a chance to have income, have a job, and decide to have babies later.”
(The effort has also received support from participants in the annual Women’s Seder at Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, where Craig is a member. Organizers have helped make the seder a “major partner in donating funds to transport sanitary pads to the villages and participating in the pen-pal project,” she said.)
“Boys in New Jersey now also wish to become involved. So now it’s expanding to become a program for kids in grades six-nine, boys and girls,” Craig said.
‘The Jewish way’
Adar and Eliana are now looking to broaden their volunteer base, contacting students in other schools and petitioning community organizations for financial support.
Although it is not a “Jewish” program per se — “the people we are helping are not Jewish; they’re Christian and Muslim children and adults,” Craig said — supporting EPN, said Eliana, is “the Jewish way to help people.”
“I think it’s important as Jews to help other people,” Adar agreed.
Beyond the specific work the teens are involved with, Eliminate Poverty Now has economic development projects in seven African nations with a special focus on girls and women.
“We have sewing centers in Kenya, Niger, and Senegal, where women can learn the trade of sewing,” Craig said. “At graduation, they have access to microcredit and can purchase their own sewing machine. And they are very successful; the women are earning income by selling the products they make.”
With all the activity they are helping to foster thousands of miles away from their suburban homes, the teenagers are eager to cross the world to visit their contemporaries in Africa.
“I’m very curious to meet them,” said Adar. “I think it would be really cool to go to Africa and see how the people actually live there.”
“I also think it would be really cool if we could actually meet our pen-pals — that would be really amazing,” said Eliana.
Craig said she would be their willing chaperone.
“I would love that,” she said. “And the girls in Africa would so love to meet them.”