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AJWS, Bush talk tsunami relief

President Bush visits USAID headquarters in Washington to address employees and the presidents of nonprofits, including the American Jewish World Service, on Jan. 10. (White House)

President Bush visits USAID headquarters in Washington to address employees and the presidents of nonprofits, including the American Jewish World Service, on Jan. 10. (White House)

NEW YORK, Jan. 11 (JTA) — When President Bush met this week with 19 nonprofit groups doing tsunami relief work, he emphasized the importance of providing long-term relief and building economic opportunity. So it makes sense that the one Jewish group at Monday’s meeting at the White House was the American Jewish World Service. Southeastern Asia, where the tsunami has killed at least 160,000 people, is one of the regions where the AJWS has been involved for years. The invitation marks a recognition of the AJWS, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Also at the meeting were CARE, Catholic Relief Services and Project HOPE. Bush focused on “efficient collaboration and the idea of staying for the long haul,” said AJWS President Ruth Messinger, who represented the group at the White House. Bush then brought the nonprofit leaders to a meeting with hundreds of USAID staffers, where he mentioned Messinger by name. “I think Ruth mentioned the fact that her agency has now provided a fishing boat. In other words, we’re beginning to help rebuild lives and help people get back on their feet,” Bush said. The AJWS, which has collected $6 million so far, expects to grant more than $1 million to 34 groups in the affected area by the end of the week. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has raised $6.5 million. Other groups also have collected substantial sums for tsunami relief. The AJWS expects to work with longtime partners in the region and also hopes to develop new partners, particularly in Indonesia, Messinger said. “We provided relief help before the tsunami, and we’re going to be there long after,” said Ronni Strongin, an AJWS spokeswoman. Based on the Jewish principle of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, the group now works with approximately 160 non-Jewish partners around the world, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Americas, and supports some 40 Jewish groups in the former Soviet Union. The group’s annual budget is $10 million, in addition to funds raised for relief efforts, Strongin said. Meanwhile, a coalition of 34 Jewish groups from the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief have joined to form the Jewish Coalition for Asia Tsunami Relief. The coalition will coordinate relief efforts, using the experiences and resources of groups who already have done such work, to avoid duplicating efforts.

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