Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tikkun Olam Empowerment! Coexistence in Jaffa

Leilani Albin, a 10-month coexistence track participant, writes about her experiences volunteering at Aros El Bahar, an organization dedicated to women's empowerment among the Arab population in Jaffa.  

Applications are open now for Tikkun Olam's 5 and 10-month programs beginning in September 2013.  Visit www.tikkunolamisrael.org/apply-now to get started!

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A little while after I arrived on the Tikkun Olam Coexistence Track, I began my work volunteering at an NGO dedicated to empowering the women of Tel Aviv-Yafo. It is run by both Jewish and Arab women, and strives to give underprivileged women of Yafo a place where they can have a support system, feel safe, come to learn, and be part of a close community. Women go there for any number of the services offered including mentoring, entrepreneurial guidance, job placement, support groups, computer classes, Arabic classes, and now English classes. In addition to offering a support system and classes, the center teamed up with an Israeli designer and created a unique line of plush dolls called “Jaffa Dolls.” A group of women who attend the center make the dolls and when they are sold the women receive a portion of the profit. The dolls have become tremendously successful and at the launch that was held at the end of last year they sold out of their entire stock. As a side project in addition to my teaching efforts, I have begun helping to find stores that will sell the dolls Internationally and am working to create a network for sales in the US.

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A couple of months ago when I first met with the women who wished to take an English class, I asked them why they wanted to learn English and what they wanted to use it for. Their answers ranged from wanting to start a small business, to having the desire to be able to give people directions in English when asked. The women had all different backgrounds and were at all different levels in their English speaking abilities. I found a middle ground, and began teaching the women using topics that were of interest to them. First conversational skills, then foods, restaurant topics, menus and ordering, travel, and directions. They are very excited to begin geography next week.

The women who attend classes at Arous Elbahar come from difficult backgrounds and have not led easy lives. It is wonderful for them to have this place that they can go for support and to learn, but as I have worked with them I often see the leftover effects from the difficult lives they have. One of my students is often absent from class and her face is full of sadness… she refuses to talk about her home life, and the women often console her when she declines to mention what is wrong. Some women bring their children to class with them, because they cannot afford daycare or a babysitter… they always apologize because they feel as though they are disrupting the lesson, but I always tell them that it’s great to have the children in the room with us. Sometimes I worry that if they feel the children are not welcome in class they will stop coming. In actuality, I think that when the kids are in the room everyone smiles and laughs a little more, and it brightens the day.

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I have one student who’s dream is to teach English in a school in Yafo. She never misses a class, and shows up excited to learn every week. She was moving at a faster pace than the rest of the class, and had completed a higher level in English while in University, so I have begun tutoring her on the side… we meet after class and I give her additional homework assignments that focus on separate topics than what I teach in the classes. The more I give her and teach her, the more empowered she seems.

The experience that I have had teaching English has been so rewarding over these past few months, that I have begun seeking additional volunteer placements in this field.


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