Friday, September 28, 2012

Better Together Ashkelon

Better Together improves services for children and youth in disadvantaged communities such as development towns on Israel's periphery and poor inner city neighborhoods, by maximizing local resources and forging partnerships between residents and service providers.  It improves existing services and creates new programs, ac companying children from birth to 18, morning till night, school to home. The program focuses include early childhood development and academic assistance and enrichment activities, while engaging parents, teachers and community leaders in strengthening communities.
Location: Matnas Shapira, Neve Alonim, Ashkelon

BT is in s even locations in the South today. Sivan is the brand-new (this week) BT Ashkelon coordinator. We do a tour of the neighborhood. Shapira is a large neighborhood in the ‘middle’ from a socioeconomic standpoint. 16,000 residents, including many FSU olim, Eth-Isrs, veteran elderly. The stronger younger families move up to Barnea. Elderly and weak stay in Neve Alonim. The streets are fairly clean (the municipality emphasizes street cleaning) but empty and neglected. This is the southernmost area of Ashkelon, which developed north. Vaknin was born here.
Outside the kindergarten it’s nearly all fathers, recognizably Ethiopian or FSU.

David is Matnas Director, he has a good reputation. January 2010 BT came to Ashkelon, there's been less vandalism, more pride in the neighborhood. You can see more energy here, more activity. The school next to the Matnas also improved its infrastructure. (BT doesn’t invest in physical infrastructure but it’s important to encourage and strengthen the local authority to do so; BT focuses on the programmatic and social ele ments).

In the photos: Room 6 is the early ch ildhood room
The moadon room was redesigned by an architect from Hatzeva. It was officially opened last week, though programs have been running since the summer. It’s very comfortable, well-designed chairs, original art, two brand-new computers, good lighting, clean walls.

CHELI is a social work student doing her training here  (black shirt and pink)
RAVIT is the mother in brown
LOREN is her daughter, here for English classes
BELLE is the educational coordinator
MARGALIT is the youth activities coordinator
SIVAN is the BT coordinator

Margalit: the youth activities coordinator has to pull everything together, cooperate, create new opportunities and an informational structure that allows us to know what's happening with each youth, so that no one falls between the chairs. We have Noar B’Aliyah youth movement garin and we integrate the parents into the activities. It was difficult to bring the parents and children together. There are groups for cinema, communications, meeting professionals, sports instructor group, and more.

There are several older madrichim. Margalit is from Jerusalem, decided to live here with her Garin. They finished the army a year ago and settled right here in the neighborhood. We’re creating a continuum of educational service, focused right now on the 9th grade, and will be expanded.

JENNY is an 11th grader, born in Ukraine. Started volunteering in 9th grade. She says that this week there were 100 youth taking part in activities; we’ve undergone a massive change this last year. I’d rather be here than wandering the street. The 11th grade is responsible for activities like the forum, chanuka party, summer camp. Jenny is also an artist – she drew the main mural on the wall of the early childhood room. Wants to go for officer training in the army, has learned about leadership and personal example from the program here. My volunteering here has helped me in life.

BELLE is in charge of the educational center for math and English. 51 kids come to the center, they have 6 teachers (4 from the commune/garin). Loren is here to study English and math, she's very serious, highly motivated.  Belle notes that the center allows us to identify needs and behavioral difficulties not just in the subjects being taught. Loren’s mother takes part.
Loren’s mother loves it because at school there are 40 kids in the English class. Here there are two. Loren is progressing well, she loves it too. It’s my future success, it strengthens me, my grades are improving. Loren’s mom loves that she comes here now from her own free will, she enjoys being here.

DAVID what we have here is boosting the weakest sectors, narrowing the gaps, empowering, improving people’s self-confidence. There are solutions here that you can't get at the schools and people can feel at home here.

CHELI we have 60 families of kids aged 4-6 taking part in enrichment classes, improving parent-child communication; identifying development problems, referring to the right solutions, developing child skills. There are lots of parents especially here who don’t know how to play with their kids, we need to teach the parents, show them how to be caring, patient, understanding, give guidance, but retaining appropriate parental authority. It changes people’s homes and families for the better.
There's a process, but we see change and progress. We’ve often seen parents come with the expectation that they'd drop off the kids in front of the TV. That’s not going to happen here.
There's a program twice a week for kids under age 2. The mothers’ forum meets around problems, challenges, need to work through concepts, to speak, to discuss. Empower them with skills. How to move from diapers, how to talk to kids, how to play. What's interesting is that they have the ‘formal’ discussion but we see them continuing the discussion outside. There’s an added extra.

David: we’re sending out from here better citizens like Jenny and Victoria. There are quality people here, we can find them and help them. There were those who didn’t speak, we didn’t see or hear them. David tells the story of a 9th grade boy who didn’t speak, wouldn’t look you in the eyes, stammered. Now in 10th grade, takes part here actively, volunteers, smiles, looks you in the eyes, has confidence. It’s because of the learning center and the special attention.

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