Mesila With and For the Community
Reduce the children wandering the streets phenomenon
Parents struggled greatly to manage the secondary effects of COVID-19; loss of livelihoods and the closures of schools brought uncertainty and instability to the community on many fronts. The disruption of daily routines compromised parents’ abilities to care for their children, leading to a significant increase in the number of children of all ages wandering the streets of the Shapira, Neve Sha'anan and Hatikva neighborhoods, both day and night.
Mesila, in cooperation with the Community Administration at the Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality established a project aimed at reducing this phenomenon. The project includes afternoon activities for children in HaRetzifim Garden in Neve Sha'anan, organized by the Community Administration.
The program is facilitated by a social worker and a local community worker from Mesila who conduct outreach and educational activities for children and their parents, and have supported the formation of a parents street patrol group. The program provides parental guidance on the dangers of unsupervised children wandering the streets, and offers a safe space for children to attend recreational activities during the afternoon and evening hours. A similar model is scheduled to be implemented in the Hatikva neighborhood.
Resilience Building for Women & Sexual Health Education
In recent years, a trained community outreach female staff person, who is also an asylum seeker, has been running a program designed to build resilience and address a wide variety of problems faced by women from the community. The program offers a supportive and inclusive therapeutic space for women, providing important information about parenting, sexual health, family planning etc., as well as a referral system for any required additional support mechanisms and services. This support infrastructure encourages women to genuinely engage in critical thinking of cultural norms and patriarchal frameworks, and share their experiences in order to lead change within their own community.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic there has been a rise in domestic violence, an increased number of unwanted pregnancies, and growing incidences of women engaged in survival sex. Many of those women find guidance and support within the framework of this program.
Additionally, many young girls were exposed to inappropriate sexual content on the internet and on the streets during extended periods of lock-downs and quarantines. Following many reports of underage girls being exposed to, or engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, we opened two parallel groups for mothers and for girls aged 8-9 on sexual health education and awareness, in collaboration with the Elem Association.
We have also produced a number of animated informational videos with tips for parents on how to discuss sexual health and sexuality with their children.
Social Protection and Access to Benefits for Children of B1 Visa Holders
Asylum seekers with B1 visas who have children under the age of 18 are entitled to receive financial benefits from the National Insurance Institute. These benefits are contingent on at least six months of employment during the past year and associated payslips documenting National Insurance Institute payments.
Mesila's Advocacy and Support Center worked with the National Insurance Institute to expedite the handling of requests made by asylum seekers with B1 visas in order to receive these benefits, which have not been processed since 2019.
In 2021, we extended assistance to 170 families who live in Tel-Aviv, assisting in completion and submission of claim forms, and tracking the status with the National Insurance Institute.
Currently, 60 families have already been approved. We also provided assistance to 20 families who do not live in Tel Aviv and were entitled to receive these benefits.
Social Grocery Store - A Holistic Solution to Food Insecurity
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a critical impact on the financial and emotional resilience of community members. Among other things, there was a dramatic rise in food insecurity within the community.
Lockdowns and closure of the hospitality industry resulted in loss livelihoods of thousands of families and a growing dependency on handouts of prepackaged boxes from a few organizations in order to meet basic nutritional needs. Families no longer had autonomy over their food choices, and became dependent on outside agencies to dictate their diets.
Self-efficacy is a key to strengthening community resilience and recovery of vulnerable populations during a crisis. As such, in order to provide a holistic solution to the acute hunger and financial strain, we worked to establish a choice model social grocery store that enables individuals and households in the community to access nutritious and culturally adapted foods, which the families get to choose themselves. The program also includes specialized nutrition education and capacity enhancement in order to address the unique needs of the community.
The Grocery Store customers are selected by clear eligibility criteria. Customers are able to shop for their own items and the quantities determined by the size of the household. This choice model provides a dignified approach to a massive challenge, enabling clients to have autonomy over their food choices and take back their right to access and prepare nutritious food for their children.
The grocery store, which began operating in the middle of July, serves 700 of the most vulnerable families in the community (approximately 2,700 women, men and children). In the coming months, the number of families will be increased and about 1,000 families will benefit from the program. The families who receive support from the grocery store are not required to pay for any of the items.
The project is jointly run by the Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality, Mesila, Tel-Aviv Foundation, Lasova Association, and a team of dedicated volunteers. It is funded by the Tel-Aviv-Yafo Municipality, private donors and charitable foundations.
Road Safety Project
The increase of unsupervised children wandering the streets simultaneously resulted in a large number of children from the community involved in traffic accidents.
As part of our efforts to provide information about road safety, we produced two videos together with the Or-Yarok Association: an informational video intended for children and features children from the community, as well as a video for parents which stresses the importance of adhering to road safety rules, wearing helmets, and more. The videos were circulated on social media and throughout educational settings.
Together with the Or- Yarok Association, we also prepared tailored workbooks dealing with road safety issues, and provided educational games which were distributed to the schools which a majority of children from the community attend.
A Therapeutic Playground & Translation of Children's Books into Tigrinya and Arabic
Most asylum seekers live in small overcrowded apartments where children have few, if any, age-appropriate books and toys. The lockdowns and quarantines were especially difficult for children, who spent a lot of time at home without any stimulation or engagement.
The team overseeing the therapeutic treatment for children prepared books for children and toddlers in Tigrinya, Arabic, English and Hebrew. Board games and other games such as Lotto, Chutes and Ladders, and a memory game, where adapted with instructions in four languages. The books and games were distributed to at-risk children, children with special needs, and children of survivors of human trafficking and slavery, whose families are treated at Mesila.
We also filmed and circulated story hour videos in Tigrinya, English and Hebrew for community members, as well as videos for parents that contain suggested parent-child activities that can be done at home.
Furthermore, the therapeutic playground at Mesila holds dyadic (parent-child) therapy groups. During the summer months, the staff also held free music and theater activities for the children at the playground.