Be Inspired  – Natalie Baskin

It takes someone or something very special to get me inspired, but recently I was introduced to an amazing woman who, with her incredible energy and dedication to helping others, has left me in awe of her achievements.   I wish to introduce you to Debra Brunner.   I am sure, after you have read this article, you too will be awed by her and what she has made happen…… maybe you can find some little way to make her inspirational programme grow to even greater heights.

I, together with a few like-minded friends, for the past few years had been sorting and grading clothes for WJR where they were shipped to the Former Soviet Union to assist the impoverished Jewish communities in the Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova etc.   Much to the dismay of the dedicated sorters and packers, WJR decided that this very ‘hands-on’ programme no longer fitted their remit of humanitarian support, and the programme ceased.   My small band of ‘designer clothes’ sorters were devastated as we loved what we did, and had raised many thousands of pounds for the charity by selling good clothes to vintage dealers and via eBay. What were we to do with our Tuesday mornings now?????   Enter……Debra Brunner……what a woman.   Single headedly, with almost no financial support but with a VISION, she has set up a new charity “The Together Plan”, which together with her children and other young trained youth leaders has been going to Belarus for the past 5 years and has supported and encouraged local groups of Jewish people of all ages to reconnect to their religious roots at the same time as teaching them skills to become some self-sufficient. This has also resulted in community bonding, a difficult concept for people who have for so many years relied on the State for almost everything and where an atmosphere of distrust still reigns of not only authority but of other members of the community. What follows, is a brief description of Debra’s charity’s focus and achievements.

The Together Plan (TTP)(charity no:1154167), was founded by Debra Brunner, based in Finchley, working with Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union (presently concentrating on small and large towns in Belarus).  TTP believe that communities can learn to self-develop with responsible guidance and close collaboration.   Many communities in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe rely on funding from charities to exist, but this is a fragile and insecure solution.  As charity funds reduce, so communities are disappearing.  The ethos of The Together Plan is to unite communities with development partners in a way that is open, honest and transparent, so that everyone works together to find solutions for a more sustainable and independent future.

It brings a unique new focus to aiding these deprived Jewish communities with an ethos of community capacity building, teaching them how to grow and become self-sufficient.  This work, carried out by volunteers from UK, is directed at people living in deprived conditions.  UK volunteers, under the guidance of Debra and her small band of locally trained volunteers and professionals, is giving knowledge, training and support to develop self-sufficient small town communities into caring for their own.  Time is invested in getting to know each community TTP works with, listening in order to understand their needs, thereby focusing specific training to individual areas.  This understanding and training is organised into youth and communal leadership, disabled communities and arranges seminars on how to develop self-sufficiency.  TTP is also annually running Youth Camps and Youth Leadership Training.  By working closely with communities, TTP are able to encourage and develop skills of the members of the communities so that TOGETHER they can help to responsibly reach a potential and a capacity they didn’t know they had.

A growing aspect of this programme is the collection, sorting and sending of new and quality used clothes to the Former Soviet Union. This operation is helping to provide funds required to alleviate hardship, but is also forming a significant part of a local self-sufficiency initiative, helping these communities back onto their feet.

TTP is currently helping former prisoners of the Minsk Ghetto, a community based in Minsk, to have their memorials translated and published in English.  They are also managing two heritage projects of outstanding significance – the discovery of a vast Jewish cemetery dating back to 1700 in Gorodok in North Belarus, and the discovery of over 1200 headstones from a desecrated cemetery in Brest (home of Menachem Begin) and the burial place of Rabbi Josef Dov Soloveitchik.  TTP is also organising a Belarus cultural event for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in the City of London, November 20th 2014.

This year TTP fund raised to enable the local Jewish community in Polotsk, North Belarus take on the responsibility of organising a Music Festival (July 7-9), commencing with a concert in Yiddish (being the language of the Ghetto) in the Holocaust Centre in Minsk.  Events continued in Polotsk with Yiddish and music workshops and a gala concert with performers from all over Belarus, the UK and Russia. Also, on July 9, was the opening of a 3-week photographic exhibition of “The Shtetle of Belarus” by the Jewish historian from Vitebsk (home of Marc Chagall) Arkady Shulman followed by local events for the local Jewish community.

TTP needs help to develop this inspirational community self-sufficiency/capacity building initiative.  They need:

– Donations of clothes and shoes … new or good quality seconds

– Sponsorship for containers of aid to Belarus or Ukraine

– Funds donated to send aid, to help develop programmes and training to continue this valuable work

– People who might want to fundraise for them.

Maybe you could:

– invite a TTP volunteer to give a talk to your school, synagogue, and local community

– talk to others about the work of TTP and help us to spread the word.

– encourage bar/bat mitzvah students to twin with young persons in Belarus learning for their own bar/bat mitzvah.

Get involved! You won’t regret it!

This is real social action. Change is possible!

Together we are better.

The Together Plan (TTP) —- UK registered charity 1154167


Call or email me…..07889-22622…