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 email@example.com 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
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
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.
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