By Danielle Cantor
Sivan Borowich-Ya'ari was an Israeli-French twenty-something living in New York City when she took a job with a denim manufacturer and was sent to Africa to oversee quality control in the company’s African factories. She was struck by the living conditions she witnessed in Madagascar, Botswana, Kenya and other areas: Hungry children, huts that barely provided shelter, lack of clean water. It would take a few years, a master’s degree in energy management and a lot of hard work and sacrifice, but Borowich-Ya'ari would eventually found Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA) – a NGO (non-governmental organization) that uses solar technology from Israel to bring light, clean water, improved education and proper medical care to African villages in need.
JHA’s first initiative, Project Sol, installs Israeli solar panels to power African schools, clinics and water pumping systems. Their second endeavor, Project Agro, uses innovative Israeli agricultural practices like drip irrigation to make agriculture possible in regions of drought, providing food for villages and promoting economic growth. Since Borowich-Ya'ari founded JHA in 2008, the organization has completed 40 projects in four countries, impacting more than 150,000 African people, including 75,000 children who have received vaccines from solar-powered refrigerators.
Getting started took patience, sacrifice, hard work and help. Pro bono lawyers helped Borowich-Ya'ari file for tax-exempt status. She researched African laws and learned that Tanzania and Uganda would allow JHA to import solar panels tax-free, but she chose to launch the project in Ethiopia because of its strong connection to Israel. Before receiving a grant, Borowich-Ya'ari used her own money to fly to Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia, and stayed in villages while she worked to get the organization off the ground.
Stateside, contributions first came in from individuals and families sponsoring their own projects. One hundred percent of those funds went straight to the projects in Africa; work was done from Borowich-Ya'ari’s living room to save overhead costs. JHA’s first grant came from the Natan Fund at the end of 2008, and allowed them to open an office and hire their first employee in February 2009. (That employee, Rachel Ishofsky, had worked for seven months unpaid; she is now associate executive director of the organization.)
Bar- and bat mitzvah projects have since become a major source of income; they resonate with American kids by giving a sense of connection to the young Africans they reach through their tzedakah. Some synagogues have also organized group giving opportunities. And because foundations now support JHA’s operating costs, the organization is still able to put 100% of individual donations toward its projects in Africa – currently at work in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi. In addition to fundraising, JHA also solicits volunteers to spread the word and implement its life-changing projects across Africa.
JHA’s mission is to help Africa and Israel simultaneously. Part of every donated dollar is spent on Israeli technologies. Supporting African development with Israeli technologies bolsters Israeli innovation, fosters a positive image of Israel and the Jewish people abroad, and helps to build relationships with African ambassadors and members of the United Nations.
Borowich-Ya'ari, 32, was born in Israel and moved with her family from Rishon Le-Zion to Nice, France in her early teens. After returning to Israel for military service at 18, she saved some money, moved to New York, waited tables while learning English, and eventually was accepted to Columbia University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. She met her husband, David Borowich, while she was in graduate school. They made Aliyah with their year-old twins in early 2010, though both of them still maintain offices in New York. The couple just welcomed another child in May 2011.
Read Globes Magazine’s May 2010 article on Borowich-Ya'ari and JHA.