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June 2, 2017

Travelling the world: Why I volunteer for World Jewish Relief


Travelling the world: Why I volunteer for World Jewish Relief

By Sarah Leslie

Last week I felt as though I had been on a whirlwind global tour of World Jewish Relief’s projects, meeting dozens of extraordinary people and all without leaving the office.  On my journey I visited wartime Poland to meet righteous gentiles who hid a Jewish family from the Nazis and whom we now help with homecare visits and I visited present day Rwanda to meet genocide survivors rebuilding their lives by growing successful tomato crops as a result of our support.

I met these amazing people and heard their stories because my current volunteering role at World Jewish Relief is writing up case studies about people we support around the world.  This includes beneficiaries of our work such as Faina Lomakova, whose tragic story really touched me, beginning with the death of her mother just after she was born at the end of the War and continues with the loss of her son and her sight. Thanks to World Jewish Relief she now has regular company from her homecare worker plus food and medical provisions. One of the lovely problems I sometimes have is deciding what to leave out, as there is so much fascinating information.

Spending time as a volunteer writing up these people’s life stories, I feel more connected to the people World Jewish Relief supports, such as the older people and those of my generation who remained in Eastern Europe long after my ancestors came to the UK and had greater opportunities.

On my virtual travels I also encounter fellow volunteers, such as Tamara Kalinka, helping to run our ‘Warm Homes’ project in Minsk for older people who otherwise would not see anyone from one week to the next. She sums up her volunteering experience for World Jewish Relief beautifully, saying ‘in conversations I find out that I am not in a bad situation at all in comparison to others. I feel that I need to give a helping hand to those who are in need.’ Like Tamara, I too feel very humbled by the stories of the people I encounter and they certainly put many of my ‘first world problems’ into perspective!

I tend to use the word ‘our’ when referring to World Jewish Relief because I am truly made to feel part of the team, from being asked to join everyone for lunch each week to being invited along to staff briefings when one of the programmes team has just returned from Ukraine. I’m often thanked and asked about how I’m enjoying my time here, which makes me feel my contribution is valued and means I look forward to coming in to the office once a week.

My intention when starting to volunteer here just over 4 years ago was to contribute more personally to the work World Jewish Relief carries out. In this time, I have undertaken a variety of roles, most recently as a researcher for the Fundraising Team prior to moving on to case studies. Volunteering here is a great way for me to use the skills I bring from my background in private sector Marketing and voluntary sector roles in Housing and Training, to benefit a cause I feel strongly about. I really enjoy volunteering here and I hope this partnership will continue for some time into the future.

We have a raft of volunteer opportunities, both regular and adhoc, for anyone who would like to offer their time – to find out more: volunteer

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