Help needy to earn their living says charity head

By Sandy Rashty, July 3, 2014

Needy communities should be taught how to fend for themselves or risk dying out.

That is the warning from Debra Brunner, the woman behind The Together Plan which launched last year to teach leadership and business skills to Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union.

She set up the charity after World Jewish Relief (WJR) ended its Gifts in Kind programme supplying goods to Jews in the region for 12 years.

Mrs Brunner, a Finchley Reform Synagogue member, said: "I used to work very closely with WJR, but then they decided to close down the programme. It's a great shame that came to an end, but now we have to teach the Jewish communities how to stand on their own two feet.

"It's very dangerous when they rely on help, don't know how to interact with the wider world, and then the help they received stops. When that happens, communities disappear."

When the help stops, that's when communities disappear

Mrs Brunner, who is descended from Polish and Russian Jews, said her charity, manned by 20 volunteers, was delivering aid to around 3,000 people in Belarus and had launched a pilot distribution centre in Minsk, enabling locals to earn a living by selling donated clothes.

"I've approached other charities, but no one is going down the self-sufficiency route," she said.

WJR chief executive Paul Anticoni, said life-skills programmes were at the heart of WJR work in the region.

He explained that Gifts in Kind was stopped because "it became harder for WJR to ship goods overseas. Four of WJR's containers were impounded in Ukraine and Moldova for over 12 months.

"We briefly trialled an alternative approach, selling clothes to generate funds to support our international programmes, but the profit margins were too small in a highly competitive charity retail sector."

The Together Plan will run its first events in the UK to celebrate the culture of the Jewish communities from Belarus next week, including a concert and a photographic exhibition.

Last updated: 5:45pm, July 3 2014