Pregnant Women's Group in Arad

Dear Friends,

A number of you have expressed interest in volunteering with Circle of Health International (COHI)/Beit Hillel’s maternal health project with the Sudanese refugee community in Arad or have noted that someone that you know may wish to participate. The program is still in its early stages and we are grateful for any support that we can get.  Below is a brief background summary, an explanation of the program and a list of possible ways that you can help out.  Please contact me at or 052-695-2701 if you are interested in participating or if you have any ideas as to how we can refine the program to make it more effective.    

Over the past two years the Sudanese refugee community in Arad has been growing.  More and more refugees have crossed the border into Israel, seeking asylum from the horrors of civil war in Sudan and the dangerous, untenable conditions in Egypt exacerbated by what occurred at the Cairo UNHCR’s office in 2005.  Up until recently the majority of the refugees were living around the Tel Aviv area where services and job opportunities were more available.  However, when the “Hadera/Gedera” law was passed in 2008 stating that in order for the refugees to get their working visas renewed they must move outside of the “Mercaz” area, the community in Arad quadrupled from 200 this past summer to approximately 1000 to date.    

Numerous difficulties have arisen due to this sharp influx to Arad.  Arad is a struggling periphery town that is simply not in the position to meet all of the social service needs of its own residents, let alone the needs of the refugees.  Amongst the Sudanese in Arad there is a strong sense of mutual support and community.  Community members give a portion of their meager incomes to communal collections to support those who are unemployed or ill and two small community centers which house their daycare facilities, continuing education classes and prayer meetings.  Yet, the leaders of the elected community council (I am continually impressed by the infrastructure that they have set up) noted recently that they no longer know the members of their community and the multiple issues that they are faced with such as unemployment or lack of health care are problems that they are not equipped to deal with.   

COHI/Beit Hillel volunteers met with the community a few months ago to explore the possibility of establishing a program focused on maternal health.  The community leaders expressed a great deal of interest and encouraged the forming of our project.  The three aspects of our project are as follows:

    1.       Pre/post natal education/checkups

    2.      Hospital accompaniment

    3.      Advocacy

There are bi-weekly meetings in one of the community center in Arad for expectant mothers.  A COHI volunteer midwife discusses information on topics such as the Tipat Chalav system, nutrition or what to expect when you are expecting at Soroka.  The midwife also checks and charts the women’s pregnancy during the meetings.  

Volunteers also provide accompaniment to Soroka at the time of the birth.  Soroka Hospital has been very accommodating in enabling a senior staff midwife (the same COHI volunteer who does the pre-natal classes/checks) to be on-call for the births.  However, she often has other responsibilities during her shift and cannot be guaranteed to be present during the entirety of the birthing process.  Many of these women do not have someone who can accompany them to the birth (for example, with the first birth that we were involved in the husband has to live in Haifa where he was able to find work and as such he was unable to be there to support his wife during the birth), so COHI provides volunteer “birth attendants” to meet these women at Soroka.  These volunteers provide labor support, advocacy and most importantly a comforting, ever-present, familiar face for the expectant mothers.    

Many of the new mothers are not aware of or have been denied certain rights that they are entitled to.  For example, one of the mothers was told that she was not entitled to paid maternity leave despite the fact that she had been having “Bituach L’Umi” (Social Security) taken from her pay check for the requisite number of months.  A workshop for women in the community given by a volunteer who worked in the Israeli healthcare system for over 20 years is being set up in order to inform them of their rights and to give them the tools to advocate for themselves.    

There are a number of other side issues that have arisen that we are attempting to address.  During our second birth, the issue of malnutrition came into sharp focus.  It looks like one of our volunteers has been able to get a donation of pre-natal vitamins and folic acid.  Other women’s health concerns have been brought up during our meetings (one woman had open wounds from a bout of pancreatitis that had put her in a coma for three months and left her with a thin layer of skin holding her guts in.  A volunteer worked to get her a pro-bono appointment with a plastic surgeon and a donation was able to get her the medical supplies that she needed) and thankfully through the extra efforts of volunteers some of those issues have been addressed.  There is the continuing issue that often the women cannot afford to fill prescriptions that they need. We are thinking of setting up some sort of medication fund if possible.    

Here are a few ways that you can volunteer:

    1.       We are looking to have 4-6 volunteer birth attendants to be on a rotating schedule.  We are providing a course taught by a team of doulas so that the attendants can be as helpful, confident and professional as possible (it is not a full doula course as we are not entering as doulas and due to the time constraints of people schedules it would not be feasible).  The workshop is planned to be two to three evenings for a couple of hours each evening.  As we hope to have the class ASAP if you are interested please contact me immeadiately.

    2.      If you are available to do advocacy (*for Hebrew speakers) for the women if they should need someone to accompany them to a governmental office etc. it could be a one-time experience. 

    3.      If you have any interest in doing fundraising/grant writing, we are running on next to no money right now and being able to continue to reimburse transportation fees would be lovely. 

    4.      If you wish to do other types of volunteering such as helping with documents, teaching English/Hebrew classes, assisting with childcare Beit Hillel is always looking for volunteers.  

Thank you in advance for your efforts on behalf of this project.  If you have any other thoughts or suggestion please share.  If any of you have access to any forums or list-serves that you think would be helpful please pass this letter on.     

Rochel Englander---COHI volunteer

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