YEDID: The Association for Community Empowerment

Through a national network of Citizen Rights Centers, YEDID empowers low-income Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to access their rights, break the cycle of poverty, and achieve self-sufficiency. YEDID ("friend" in Hebrew) was founded in 1997 with the mission to promote social and economic justice in Israel. To date, YEDID has given direct assistance to over 290,000 Israelis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. In addition, we have run hundreds of community empowerment programmes, and have lobbied successfully for public policy change on social issues such as housing, labour, healthcare, and social security. Our approach to creating social change operates on ...
Nov 5, 2013

Progress Report on Vocational Training Course

The second cohort of 21 students (17 women and four men) began their training at the Yvel Design Center in January. This course provides and introduction to the elements of jewelry making, such as working with gold and silver, gem setting, and design process. In April, the group began the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labor (TAMAT) accreditation course in jewelry making. Once that course is complete, the students will spend a number of months continuing to learn Hebrew and jewelry making, and preparing for the TAMAT exam.

YEDID is also helping the students navigate Israeli bureaucracy and understand the country's employment laws. In March, the head of YEDID's Legal Department gave a lecture to the class on Israeli labor law. The students took great interest, asked many questions, and a number of them realized that they had not received from their former employers certain benefits to which they are entitled. These students have turned to YEDID for help in writing letters to their former employers, advocating for their legal rights by detailing exactly that which should have been included in their paychecks. This effort was reinforced in May, when two volunteers from YEDID's Citizen Rights Center in Jerusalem went to the school to offer individual rights counseling to students in need.

Continued attendance and participation of the second cohort has been excellent. As for the first cohort, all members completed the program and all were integrated into employment at the Yvel Design Center or at the Megemeria social business. One student set up a private business marketing her work.

All participants from both cohorts improved/are improving their Hebrew and have reported an increased sense of familiarity with the country and its culture and a strengthened sense of belonging. Sales of the students' jewelry have been steady building.

Prior to joining the program, Megemeria's students from both cohorts had been working in dead-end jobs in fields such as maintenance, cleaning, and security. All of the students have said that their greatest hope is to transform their lives by attaining an economically viable and personally meaningful profession. 22 students are already working; 21 more are on their way. These people have improved their future prospects in life as well as their present-day quality of life. Those who are parents serve as proud role models for their children of integrated and successful Ethiopian-Israelis.

Testimonial

Fantanesh is a divorced woman who is raising five children alone. Born in a small village in Gondar, she immigrated to Israel in 2002 with her husband and 4 children. The family moved into an absorption center in Arad, and one year later, the youngest child was born. In 2004 the family moved to Kiryat Menachem, and in 2008 Fantanesh divorced her husband. She has been supporting herself and her children entirely alone ever since.

Fantanesh labored as a sub-contracted cleaner for years in order to provide for her children. For her, it was a job that offered no hope for a future, but it was all she could find. Then she heard about the Megemeria program at her local community center. Fanatesh applied and was accepted into the program.

At this point in the story, it is necessary to note that this was the first year of the program's operation, and management of the program was being provided by another non-profit organization.

As a single mother whose former husband does not fulfill his child support duties, Fantanesh was collecting child support from the National Insurance Institute (NII). In order to be eligible for this support, a single parent must earn below a certain income ceiling. As part of the Megemeria program, Fanatesh received a monthly scholarship on which to survive. This scholarship, combined with the child support money that Fanatesh received from the NII put her over the income ceiling. But because YEDID had not yet joined the program, no one knew that a serious problem was being created.

The months passed and Fantanesh continued to collect both child support from the NII and her monthly scholarship. Even with both sources of income, she struggled desperately to make ends meet. But in spite of her significant financial struggles, Fantanesh excelled in the program. She finished with honors, passed the Ministry of Industry and Trade's exam for jewelry makers, and was integrated into work at the Yvel Design Center. Her life seemed to be changing.

But then in 2012, Fantanesh got a letter from the NII stating that she was in debt to them - for an enormous amount of 19,000 shekels! The explanation was that Fantanesh had crossed the income ceiling for the entire period of her studies – an income ceiling about which she had never been informed.

Luckily, by this time YEDID had taken over management of the program, and was able to immediately advocate on Fantanesh's behalf. YEDID petitioned the NII committee responsible for erasing debt. After a prolonged struggle, we were victorious – the committee agreed to erase 70% of the debt.

Throughout the entire span of YEDID's involvement with Megemeria, we have been appealing to the NII to relax its criteria regarding students' ability to collect their scholarships without compromising the various forms of income support they may be collecting from the NII. This is not so that the students can become rich and relax; it is so that they may learn and live in dignity, nothing more. At this point in time, the struggle continues.

To provide a quick update on Fantanesh's story:  she has invested some of her recent earnings into equipment for doing additional, independent jewelry repair and design from her home, after she completes her workday at the Yvel Design Center. She sees a future in the profession that she has selected for herself, and she is pursuing that future independently. Fantanesh has left her past of working in dead-end cleaning jobs behind her, and is moving into a brighter, more hope-filled life.

Fantanesh is one example of Megemeria's success in helping participants achieve independence through meaningful and viable employment. She is also an example of the kinds of hardships with which Megemeria's students struggle. YEDID is honored to have joined this program, and to put its expertise behind the program's noble goals.

On behalf of YEDID's staff and the students and graduates from Megemeria, I thank our supporters for their partnership. Without help like yours, 43 talented individuals would not have had the chance to embark on the path to a brighter future. Thank you so much!

Aug 15, 2013

Progress Report on YEDID's Mobile Center

YEDID's Mobile Rights and Health Center is a van divided into two sections, a Citizen Rights Center and a Health Center.  The mobile team consists of a YEDID staff member or volunteer together with a health professional.  By combining a Citizen Rights Center with a Health Center, the unit provides a response to both medical and social problems. A YEDID director on board ensures that clients are aware of  their social and economic rights, and a health professional carries out routine health checks and screenings for various illnesses.  By providing holistic healthcare and outreach to low-income and underserved people, and by working with respect and dignity, the mobile unit staff earns clients' trust and empowers the latter to become more active in their own healthcare.

The Mobile Center is a cost-effective way to serve a broad social and geographical range, and to collect valuable information on the needs of vulnerable populations.  For example, YEDID, together with Dr. Roni Kaufman, Head of the Social Science Center of Ben Gurion University,  has instituted a questionnaire that will help create a portrait of the health consequences of food insecurity among elderly adults.  Much of the research on food insecurity focuses on young and middle-aged adults and households with children. Resulting findings, definitions and measurements are therefore a reflection of these populations. Because of this focus, food insecurity among older adults remains poorly understood. YEDID will use the data it collects to study the relationship between health and food security, as well as that of poverty and food security.

From the beginning of May through the end of July, 2013, YEDID's Mobile Health and Rights Center ran five health days, serving 330 middle aged and elderly adults of diverse religions and ethnicities. One of these Health Days was run specifically for Holocaust Survivors. In addition, the center assisted 193 clients in accessing their legal rights and benefits. The majority of these clients turned to the center with issues regarding public housing, debt and repossessions, and obtaining benefits from the National Insurance Institute. The following story is taken from the period covered by this report:

In July 2010, a client turned to the Mobile Center in Carmiel. This client had been living in a public housing apartment in Kiryat Tiyon for many years, until the year 1987, at which point he moved. When he left the apartment, he had paid all that he owed and had no debts to the public housing company nor to the municipality. However, in 2010, the City Council of Kiryat Tivon sent him a letter demanding that he pay a sum of 26,000 shekels for a property tax debt that had been building until 2004 – a random date indeed. The client called the council and explained that he had not been a resident of Kiryat Tivon since 1987, but the council continued to badger him for immediate payment.

The client turned to YEDID in a panic, and asked for help in getting the inexplicable debt cancelled. First, the center director went to the Kiryat Tivon Collections Department to learn how the debt had come into being. The Billing Department clerk was unable to specify the components of the debt due to the amount of time that had passed. The center director then went to the director of the Collection Department, who was very helpful throughout the entire process. The center director and her client were asked to write a detailed letter to cancel the debt on account of non-receipt of details, as well as aging of the debt.


The request was transferred to a legal advisor for the City Council. The process was gruelingly slow – for the last three years, YEDID's center director called the director of the Collections Department every few months to director to get answers. Every time, she was told that "these things take time." All the while, the debt continued to grow and eventually reached 33,000 shekels! But in May 2013, patience and persistence finally paid off. The center received notice that the debt has been altogether cancelled!

On behalf of YEDID's staff, volunteers, and clients, I thank our supporters for their partnership. The immediate and essential assistance that the center provides to individuals across the country could never happen without your help. Thank you so much!

May 20, 2013

Progress Report on YEDID's Mobile Center

The goal of YEDID's Mobile Citizen Rights and Health Center is to empower and strengthen residents of Israel's socioeconomic and geographic peripheries in the areas of health and social rights. The Center's objectives are to help its clients navigate the national health system; to provide preventative medical services; and to supply information about legal rights and social benefits in the area of health care and other areas (such as housing and National Insurance, to name just two).

From the beginning of March through the end of April, 2013, the Mobile Center ran four Health Days, in Omer, Tel Aviv, Ra'anana, and Or Akiva, serving a total of 420 clients on those days. In addition, the Center provided an additional 139 clients with rights counseling.The most prevalent subjects for which people turned to the center for non-health related issues during this period were matters related to housing, dealing with the National Agency for Debt Collection, and managing with financial hardships and debts that had not yet gone into reposession. Clients served included immigrants and veteran Israelis, Arabs and Jews.

During the period covered by this report, the Mobile Center's staff and volunteers underwent two trainings by lawyers from YEDID's Legal Department, covering legal matters pertaining to housing, labor, and reposessions. The team also joined YEDID's Housing Conference, which it held in Nazareth in April.

Three months ago, a woman, N., turned to the Mobile Center when it was in Carmiel. N. had divorced her violently abusive husband, and was living on her own in poor health and extremely limited income. She had been receiving rental assistance for a year when it was suddenly cut off, with neither warning nor explanation. This left N. to survive off of little more than the 1,600 shekels a month she was receiving from Social Services. She has no family to help her, and she does not speak Hebrew.

When N. tried to get answers from the mortgage company about why her rental assistance had been cut off, they said they would look into the matter. Weeks went by, and she heard nothing from them. In the meantime, her financial situation became desperate, and her landlord was threatening to evict her from her home. She returned to the Mobile Center again in April, this time in panic.

The Center Director immediately called the mortgage company and got answers right away, which is infuriating, when one thinks about it - if they could answer the Center Director, why could they not answer N.? The company said it needed a divorce document from the Sha'aria court to prove N.'s marital status. The Center Director and a translator accompanied N. to the Sha'aria court in Acre, and the documents were ready a few days later. The Center Director submitted them directly to the Ministry of Housing in Nazareth Ilit in order to speed up the process. After a week, the Mobile Center received news that N.'s rental assistance had been reinstated, including three retroactive payments. N. can finally breathe again. She has paid her rent and continues to live securely in her home.

On behalf of YEDID's staff, volunteers, and clients, I thank our supporters for their partnership. The immediate and essential assistance that the center provides to individuals across the country could never happen without your help. Thank you so much!

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