Micha Odenheimer, a rabbi and a prolific journalist, traveled to Nepal in 2005, where he encountered large numbers of Israeli tourists who were visiting the impoverished nation.
“These were not just backpackers trekking around the country looking for fun. They were talented andmotivated young adults who, upon witnessing the devastating poverty in the country, were compelled todo something to help. They lamented the fact that there was no framework at the time in which they could do so,” says Micha. Every year about 40,000 young Israeli’s put up their boots after finishing the army and head off to far- flung exotic locations in the Far East, Africa and South America.
Micha, with previous experience providing humanitarian aid in third world countries, took their
insights seriously and began thinking about a way to funnel the energy and curiosity of these young Israelis to help the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities. When he returned to Israel he raised seed money and recruited 15 young Israelis who were up to the challenge. In 2007, they moved to the Swayambu neighborhood in Kathmandu, living in a group house and volunteering with local NGOs. Micha remained with the group, mentoring their work and inspiring them with study sessions on how Jewish and universal philosophy can act as a source of motivation.
This first group was the start of the Tevel b’Tzedek movement that has, in the past 9 years, sent over 800 young Israelis and Jews to Nepal to contribute and to learn. These young leaders have returned to their home communities with a different view of the world and their place in it.
The organization has grown exponentially and become a recognized and leading INGO (international NGO) in Nepal, the only Israeli organization with that status. To date, it employs a staff of 60 Nepali employees, and runs a variety of groundbreaking projects in agriculture, education, income generation and women’s empowerment that impact over 25,000 rural villagers.
On April 25, 2015, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the very communities where Tevel had been working for the past several years, the Tevel staff and volunteers were instrumental in distributing crucial emergency supplies and aid to local communities and villages. Tevel’s intricate knowledge of Nepal, its INGO status, its highly professional Nepalese staff and relationships with
governmental and local communities put the organization in a unique position to help in the long-term recovery.
Purna, a 50-year old Nepalese victim of the earthquake shared his appreciation for the aid he and
his family received from Tevel in the days after the disaster. Purna was working in a nearby stone quarry when the earthquake hit. He ran home and found his family huddled around the ruins of their home, devastated. They spent the night together shivering in the rain and cold of a makeshift tent. Not too long after the quake, Purna and his family received tin roofing from Tevel. Despite nationwide shortages, Tevel managed to acquire and distribute the desperately needed building materials within a short time. In a letter penned to Tevel staff, Purna wrote, “Your organization was sent by God for earthquake victims like us. We haven’t rebuilt our house yet, but at least we have sturdy temporary shelters. There is a shortage of building materials and of course, money. Even if we had money to buy tin roofing sheets, there aren’t any in the market. Thank you.”