Making Tikkun Olam a reality in South Africa

Making ‘Tikkun Olam’ a reality in South Africa

“MamaEarth responds to the world as an ecological system in which everything is connected,” says Dr Ruth Rabinowitz, who began this environmental and educational organisation “with the goal of promoting healthy people on a healthy planet.” She shares her story with us.

Enabling legislation is the first step to bringing about positive environmental change; education about issues such as climate change and the ways to deal with them by using new kinds of energy technology, is the next step,” continues Ruth. “Implementing projects to help people change the way they think and act completes the cycle. Our activities encompass all of these areas.” Dr Rabinowitz trained as a medical doctor at Wits and later took on a career in parliament. “I became a member of parliament as if drawn on an inexorable path, and spent 15 fascinating years learning about every aspect of the new South Africa from the deepest grasslands of Ulundi to the sanctified floors of the constitutional negotiations in parliament.”

It was when planning to leave parliament in 2009 that she decided to start her NGO, MamaEarth. “Words in Hansard [a verbatim report of parliamentary proceedings] do not change the world; projects implemented in the real world do,” says Ruth. “In 2009 Eskom crashed, giving me an opening to push a renewable energy agenda in South Africa. Preparing to leave parliament in 2009, I began this NGO to promote education and projects for a sustainable world, following my instincts for teaching and healing.”

Positive and practical

As expressed by Dr Rabinowitz, it is positive and practical projects that are prioritised by MamaEarth. “We partner with others to implement projects in recycling, food gardens, rain water harvesting, use of renewable and healthy technology and computer literacy. We organise hearings for Members of Parliament on energy-related matters and we hold roundtables to better understand how to navigate the legislative environment around sustainability,” she says.

Her most recent initiatives is an exciting one, which aims to provide electricity and energy to those who do not have immediate access to these resources. “One of our latest projects is a mini power station built into a mobile box the size of an apple carton,” Ruth explains. “It responds to the need for householders to provide emergency energy supply when there are outages, or to supply energy to country areas off the grid or in peril urban areas. “It converts the sun’s energy into power using a photo voltaic panel and battery, and provides enough back-up to run an internet café for 5 hours without sunshine. Hence a computer, TV, charging of cell phones, radio, printer and fax machine together with 4 LED lights can be run off your home system without use of a noisy polluting generator, or can be used to run a small internet café business in outlying areas.”

The imprint of Jewish thinking

Ruth explains that Judaism and its values have a strong impact on her work. “You might not see a link between this work and Judaism, but in my life the two are juxtaposed. The lessons of Torah offer me a rich backdrop against which to test my work and actions. I firmly believe that the most important guide in life is to ensure that your work promotes ‘give and take’ relationships; moving everyone and everything towards a state of balance and peace.

“Both in my political work — promoting the idea of balance of power and leadership that serves the people and fosters justice — and in my MamaEarth project work, which builds respect for every atom and the world, I feel the imprint of Jewish thinking,” she says.

The Torah is a blueprint for seeing ecology as a metaphor for everything. A talk I gave at an interfaith event on ecology in religion is available on the MamaEarth website, which readers are welcome to view.”

If you would like to assist, Ruth says that “MamaEarth would love to work with volunteers who want to help us spread the message that each of us has one life; we all share one world; everything is connected. Our actions have a ripple effect that impacts on the world therefore talking today matters if it leads to positive action tomorrow. We are a young organisation and help with administration, web design, fundraising, distributing products and implementing our goals is welcome.”

Her message to young people wanting to make a difference in South Africa is that they have a challenge to think globally and act locally. “Like MamaEarth, they need to ensure that they leave a thriving earth for their offspring. That will require a change in mindset from personal gratification to sharing, from ravaging the earth’s resources to salvaging and replenishing them,” she says.

“Capetonians are especially blessed with the jewel in South Africa’s crown, and might easily forget the precipice the world hangs on. They could be under water sooner than they expect! Before then, positive lifestyles changes would give them a great sense of satisfaction at knowing that their thoughts, actions and heart are contributing towards a joyful, thriving world.”

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