Helen Lieberman, Founder and Honorary President of Ikamva Labantu – Future of Our Nation – South Africa’s Largest Community-based NGO Facilitating Positive Social Change Awarded Joseph Prize by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Helen Lieberman (center) accepting the Joseph Prize from the daughters of Roger E. Joseph --
Linda Karshan and Ellen Joseph at left, Roxanne Leopold at right -- and Rabbi David Ellenson.
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion bestowed the 2009 Roger E. Joseph Prize upon Helen Lieberman, Founder and Honorary President of Ikamva Labantu – Future of Our Nation, in recognition of her exemplary work in providing programs and hope for the future for youth, the homeless, blind, aged, and disabled in South Africa. With more than 1,000 current projects assisting more than 70,000 people of all ages, including 45,000 children, Ikamva Labantu is the largest community-based, non-profit, non-governmental organization of its kind in South Africa. The presentation was made at Ordination and Investiture Ceremonies at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York on May 3, 2009 at 9 a.m.
In accepting the Joseph Prize, Helen Lieberman stated, “After the apartheid years in South Africa, social justice needs to heal rifts and provide a future of hope for those who have have known suffering and injustice. Ikamva Labantu strives to give individuals the skills, independence, and confidence to do things for themselves. Maimonides said that the highest level of tzedakah is to strengthen the hand of the poor so that they need not beg again. My actions are informed by these Jewish values, which teach us to love others as ourselves. Our mission reflects two important African sayings: A person is a person through other people. And every child is our child.”
Trained as a speech therapist, Lieberman said she began her community work by accident. Some 35 years ago she was working in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital. She went into a nearby black township in search of a young patient who had been discharged from surgery, but whom she felt needed follow-up care. Her shock at the living conditions there was the start of her deep commitment to the communities she now serves. Beginning during the worst of the apartheid years, she built up programs and endured risks, threats, and harassment from the authorities, including the murder of some colleagues in the townships.
Being Jewish was pivotal in her work. Lieberman said, “To live in South Africa and see what you see – after the Holocaust and all other things – and not to get involved, what have we learned? What example are we? It’s about whether you live a life that extends itself to those less fortunate than yourself.”
She began her grass-roots activism to address overcrowding, unemployment, lack of social infrastructure, and social services. By 1992, apartheid had been abolished, but this unprepared society lacked basic literacy, job skills to support the new system, and understanding of health care issues. Lieberman’s projects advancing skills development and education so proliferated in numbers and strength that it became necessary to establish a coordinating umbrella organization, Ikamva Labantu. Today, Ikamva Labantu addresses rural community development, builds schools and trains teachers, offers sports programs, and has over 500 day care centers, scores of youth and senior centers, and disabled children centers. It sponsors job-training centers and factories that employ its graduates, who produce products sold around the world, with profits used to train and employ more workers, thus fulfilling the mission of economic empowerment and self-sufficiency. It brings to the schools anti-drug and anti-violence programs, health education, self-image enhancement, and mentorship. Adults benefit from life skills education, and home care workers are trained to provide home care service of the elderly and frail. With the motto “Nothing about us without us,” Ikamva Labantu’s multicultural staff – program specialists, social workers, teachers, and university and health care researchers – looks to local leaders, who are responsible for the success of these programs. The goal is self-reliant and sustainable community-based organizations facilitating positive social change and achieving effective and efficient delivery of Ikamva Labantu’s core services. This organization, which serves as a model for programs elsewhere in Africa, receives no funding from the South African government and its ultimate hope is to become redundant as all programs become government sponsored and mainstreamed.
The Joseph Prize was established to honor the ethical convictions and idealism of Roger
E. Joseph. It is an international award presented to exceptional individuals or organizations that have made lasting contributions to the causes of human rights and Jewish survival.
The presentation was made by the three daughters of Roger E. Joseph- Ellen Joseph, Roxanne Leopold, and Linda Karshan.
Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion is the nation’s oldest institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR’s scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement’s congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR’s campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish history, identity, art, and archaeology, and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.