The 2021 judging panel was impressed by the project’s “clarity of purpose, the number of its teachers who are refugees and who share the same challenges and particular circumstances in southern Tel Aviv.” It was also singled out for its “genuine inclusiveness”, which the judging panel said is “based on policies of direct input and self-reliance, self-sustained in a challenging environment for refugees and asylum-seekers from Eritrea.” The number of women directly involved and the project’s ability to self-finance were also noted.
Although Israel has signed the UN Refugee Convention, it appears to do its best to make asylum seekers’ lives intolerable. As a status-less group, asylum seeker aspirations are at odds with Jewish hegemonic identity in Israel. In this context, it has been a tremendous accomplishment for more than 500 individuals to attend The Community Education Center (CEC) courses, another 30 to teach such courses at least one evening a week, after a 12-hour and often-dangerous work day. In parallel, it is exemplary for a group of 10 migrants to run the CEC between two to four evenings a week and to have been doing so for more than 10 years. Over 5,000 community members have so far benefitted. ARTEAM believes that because these asylum-seekers took responsibility for their own community – and developed a response to the vital need for education – its recognition is wholly justified.
The Garden Library (GL) was established in 2009 with a mission to improve the living conditions of migrant and asylum seeker communities in Israel, by empowering individuals to organise collectively and advocate for themselves. It implements programs aimed at equipping members of the community, children and adults, with tools and skills that better their lives. It strives to improve their situation in the job market, enhance their ease in navigating Israeli society while developing their capacities to advocate for change. The GL is located in Neve Sha’anan, a south Tel Aviv neighbourhood that suffers from socio-economic deprivation and institutional neglect. Today, the area has transformed into the undisputed centre in Israel for migrant workers and asylum seekers, communities subjected to strict and exclusionary policies by government. It runs three main programs:
The CEC is a community-based initiative founded and coordinated by a Leadership Group comprised of members from the migrant and asylum seeker communities. It aims to empower individuals in the community through educational and professional development, providing opportunities for the promotion of local leadership. Through adult evening courses, the CEC seeks to enhance the knowledge and skills of community members, improve their opportunities in the job market and orientation in Israeli society, and equip them to better advocate for their rights.
Between 400 and 450 students enrol in up to 50 classes each semester, three semesters a year, each lasting between 12 and 14 weeks. Courses include specific income-generating skills, orientation to Israeli society, culture and language courses and self-expression courses. All courses are offered by volunteer professionals in each of the vocational fields, who use a syllabus developed by the Library. The language courses – at various levels of Hebrew, English, Arabic and French – are also taught by native-speaker volunteers according. At the end of each semester a graduation ceremony demonstrates outcomes from different courses with certificates presented to all graduating students – an opportunity for students to showcase their achievements and build their reputation as positive role models within the community.
Registrations reached an all-time high in 2019, with more than 550 students each semester. The increased proportion of women participating in CEC courses is also a notable achievement: 30% of registrants were women, the equivalent of their representation among the asylum seeker community. To encourage single-mothers to register, GL offers scholarships. Mothers also initiated a mutual-support group – composed of 15 women – providing childcare services three days a week. Courses offered in those time frames give registration priority to mothers with young children, while mothers in the group officially become GL volunteers, with each supervising a group of children in a dedicated playroom once a week. In 2019, 80% of course teachers were from the migrant community itself.
The CEC was founded and is run by a leadership team composed of migrants and asylum seekers who meet weekly in order to coordinate the courses and act as the project’s steering committee. It is significant that members of this highly marginalised population group take on high profile roles within their community and advocate for empowerment, advancement and change.
During the COVID-19 crisis, measures were implemented to ensure that all students who lost their source of income were supported with food baskets and other material support.
The CEC is unique in Israel’s organisational landscape, as it involves, through the Leadership Group, migrants and asylum seekers in planning, implementing and decision-making processes in every aspect of the project. Through their involvement, the 10 volunteer members gain management skills and experience on how to lead and advocate for their communities. Over the years, members from the Leadership Group began to teach CEC courses, and two of them now serve on the board of administrators. 80 percent of CEC teachers are migrants or asylum seekers, graduates of CEC courses or professionals in their country of origin. They teach the courses voluntarily, and being part of the CEC’s educational team provides them with the opportunity to fulfil significant roles within their community. Most students who graduate from CEC courses increase their resilience and self-reliance with improved language skills, specific vocational skills and/or their capacity to adapt and understand Israeli society. For the most part, this translates into more decent, better paid jobs with improved work conditions, which in turn has a positive effect on family life and their capacity to raise their children.
The acquisition of Hebrew language skills has various consequences – they can better understand their pay slip, better communicate with their children’s teachers and more easily access municipal services available to them.
By Angelina Robles (Philippines), John Coronado (Philippines), Connie Viabetta (Liberia), Hassan Muhammad Abdullah (Sudan), Hassan Abdullah Adam Yahya (Sudan), Amelita Shani (Philippines), Mary Christina Israeli (Philippines), Yohannes Teklu (Eritrea), Habib Muhammad (Sudan), Miriam Ibrahim Said Edinti (Sudan), Yemenite Asmalash Fatwi (Eritrea).
It’s very emotional to see all the graduates here today. People who have chosen to make something better with their lives, to invest in themselves and their education for their future. Education is the key to taking control and power over your own life, and everyone here is on that journey.
Happy 10th year to the CEC. We cannot imagine we came this far. We feel overwhelmed and grateful to our community. Our journey began with 10 individuals from different parts of the globe attending together a three-months learning leadership course. When we finished the course, we decided to continue to help and serve our communities together, and the Leadership Group was formed. As foreigners, we know and feel the needs of our fellow asylum seekers and migrant workers. The CEC’s goal is to give tools to everybody, tools they can use wherever they go.
The Leadership Group is a multicultural and multiracial group that manages the CEC since 2009. Its members comprise nationals from Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea and the Philippines. Group members volunteer to coordinate classes and properly manage the day-today affairs of the center in collaboration with our Israelis friends. The CEC today is a leader in providing education to the asylum seeker, refugee and migrants’ communities in Israel. Many of the center’s students have been able to establish a career of their own, some have entered the job market and some are now teaching in the center.
The center has been able to adapt to the ever-changing immigration laws of the state, even providing classes for students in the Holot detention center.
The CEC has been able to provide quality education through the generosity of community members and Israeli volunteers who have given their precious time and resources to help those in need. Thank you for all the support of our teachers and coordinators who devoted themselves to volunteer, and most of all thank you to all our students who took on special roles in the CEC. Thank you and more power to all of us.
After a decade of activities, the center has been able to bridge the gaps between communities while fostering understanding and dialogue, achievements which the state has largely fail to address. A decade on, we are proud to be members of the CEC’s Leadership Group because it has taught each one of us to be responsible leaders, to coexist with others, to help and assist those in need.
As leaders, we created the CEC so that it enables us to welcome and help different communities through education. For a decade the Leadership Group successfully did that and it is our privilege to help the community and the CEC in whatever we can.
For us, members of the CEC, the center and the collaboration within the Leadership Group is part of our daily lives. The CEC for us is a family composed of the Leadership Group, students, lovely friends, teachers and volunteers from the community. The CEC is our second home, a place where we can feel at home and be with different communities from different cultures. For part of us, the CEC and specially the activism in the Leadership Group, symbolizes the finding of a new family in Israel which provides us a safe place to discuss and to argue, to learn by exchanging knowledge, to challenge our overt and comfortable positions. But mostly, we share love and care which create a stable feeling of belonging – for us, and therefore for the communities.
CEC is a HOME where different communities live under its canopy. The CEC is educating us, giving us the tools we need in improving our lives and wellbeing. The CEC is molding us to become future leaders in our own community, to share our knowledge for the community’s best interest.
The CEC is our home outside our homes, where everyone is our brothers and sisters regardless of nationality, color and culture. The CEC binds us as ONE! Happy 10th anniversary and to the next 10 years and Mazal Tov for ALL of us.
Ockenden International’s four cash prizes recognise and reward innovative projects that deliver evidential self-reliance to refugees and/or displaced people, the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951. The four annual prizes are open to projects or programmes focused on Internally Displaced People (IDP)/refugee self-reliance anywhere in the world. The other nine 2021 finalists (with the other three winners italicised) are:
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