After Waiting for Apartheid to Fall, World Ort Meets in South Africa

For the first time in its history, World ORT has held its annual Board of Directors meeting in South Africa.

Before the fall of apartheid, World ORT, which is devoted to rehabilitation and training programs, refused to operate here.

The meeting of 100 delegates from 18 countries, ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Belarus, comes as the 122-year-old Jewish group raises its profile in South Africa.

“It gives many of us a warm feeling that having taken the correct moral decision, we’re now reaping the reward in being able to build a substantial program in South Africa,” said Richard Goldstone, president of World ORT.

Addressing 400 people at a reception in ORT’s honor, Cape Town Mayor Gerald Morkel said South Africans should be grateful for the education and training projects ORT sponsors.

“In the midst of mass unemployment and resultant poverty, we suffer from a desperate shortage of those skills which are necessary to oil the wheels of the modern technological state,” he said. “ORT’s vocational and educational training opportunities will equip our people with those skills and competencies, without which they will never hope to succeed in the brave new world.”

In fact, one of the conference’s major resolutions centered on the establishment of an international office in Johannesburg, helping to unlock donor funds for Africa.

In the last two months, ORT South Africa has launched two new programs.

One links the British Ministry of International Development and the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence to provide preventive education on drugs in Soweto, the country’s largest black township.

The other is a $300,000 project, to be run in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard Europe, to establish a “digital village” in Dikhatole, an underprivileged area outside Johannesburg.

In addition to members of the community who will benefit, local government officials will be trained in Internet and e-mail to improve the delivery of social services.

ORT officials also met with South African Jewish day schools, with a view to increasing ORT’s contribution to education through technology.

The needs of ORT’s beneficiaries vary from country to country, a factor taken into account when planning projects.

“The main problem in Africa today, as far as I understand it, is unemployment,” the director general of World ORT, Robert Singer, told JTA. “Our main focus here should probably be on adult education,” and on information technology.

In a sense, holding the international meeting in South Africa was a fitting tribute to South African Jewry, which provided the funds for the first ORT school in Israel in 1948.

The school, which was moved in full from Sofia, Bulgaria to Jaffa, today is known as Yad Syngalowski, ORT’s flagship school in Israel.

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