Tali*, a Jewish woman from Jaffa, and her six children left her abusive husband. The years of abuse took its toll, with Tali fighting a bout of depression that left her barely able to get out of bed. Three years later, she was determined to “take back her life”. A municipal social worker recommended Welfare to Wellbeing, the Jaffa Institute’s vocational and therapeutic program to facilitate employment for chronically unemployed or underemployed women in Israel. Tali was an ideal candidate. She lacked formal education and work experience, and her self-confidence needed a boost.
As the course progressed, Tali’s confidence faltered and she considered dropping out. Orian Malka, a social worker and Welfare to Wellbeing’s coordinator, provided one-on-one therapy. Tali completed the course, just as she and her children were forced to leave her mother’s home and find their own place to live. With Orian’s support, she found a job in a daycare center where she was loved by children, parents and staff. For this first time, Tali rented an apartment on her own. Tali shared, “Welfare to Wellbeing gave me the confidence and skills to take control of my life, provide for my children, and be a positive role model for them.”
The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women like Tali particularly hard. Despite the diversity of the greater south Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, women are united by a shared history of systemic disadvantages in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to poverty, crime, violence and substance abuse. Many are single mothers who raise their children with limited financial, emotional, or practical support. Many have experienced traumas, struggled with addiction, engaged in risky and illegal behaviors, and suffered from domestic abuse, mental health issues, physical illness, and loss. While the vast majority of these women would like to improve their situation, they lack job training, skills, and experience.
The detrimental impact of COVID-19 led Bank Hapoalim to focus its support on employment initiatives for marginalized and underserved communities. Alongside multiple annual volunteer initiatives by Bank Hapoalim staff at the Jaffa Institute’s Food Distribution Center, Bank Hapoalim chose to support Welfare to Wellbeing. Reuven Krupik, Bank Hapoalim’s chairman shared, “We strongly believe in the Jaffa Institute and its mission to break intergenerational poverty, and that is why we are 100% committed to this partnership. We believe that programs like Welfare to Wellbeing can lead to meaningful change in the job market for the social periphery, and to unprecedented personal and economic empowerment for women.”
Yusra, an Arab Israeli woman from Jaffa, dropped out of high school following an accident that killed her brother and left her father disabled and unable to work. Over the years, she married, had four children, and found temporary low-paying unskilled jobs. “I longed to change my life, and knew that I needed job stability and a regular paycheck.” On a friend’s advice, Yusra joined Welfare to Wellbeing. Yusra explained, “I wanted to find office work, but I lacked experience and computer skills. Despite my insecurities due to being a high school dropout, I enrolled in the program. I quickly learned that I could acquire new skills, and my self-confidence improved.” At the program’s completion, Yusra was pleased to find a long-term position in office administration.
Each year, over a two-month period, Welfare to Wellbeing provides 60 women with vocational skills training, confidence-building workshops, and therapeutic, nutritional, and job placement support, while they transition towards personal and financial independence. In addition to its program in south Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in 2020 the Jaffa Institute, in cooperation with the Israel Prison Service, launched a course for recently incarcerated women to ease their transition back into society, and decrease their likelihood of re-offending. Participants represent the mosaic of Israeli society, including Jewish and Arab Israelis, and immigrants from the FSU and Ethiopia that have struggled to gain a foothold in the Israeli job market. They are united by a desire to improve their lives, and create a brighter future for their children.
Participants in Welfare to Wellbeing often lack basic technological and administration skills that seem to be “second nature” for most of us; some have never used a computer. The program’s Coordinator and Social Worker, Orian Malka, provides therapeutic support to tackle fears and anxieties, and to boost self-confidence and self-efficacy. Participants practice mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises to reduce stress and regulate their emotions. Vocational courses include basic accounting, computers, communications and other administrative skills. Additional topics and workshops include workplace dynamics, time management, negotiation and labor rights.
Participants prepare their CVs, and simulate job interviews with staff to improve communication skills and self-confidence. Each cohort has an opportunity to visit a variety of workplaces, and staff assist participants to find job opportunities that match their interests and skills. The program runs daily, with participants signing a “contract” that fully commits them to an intensive schedule. Orian explained, “The program provides them with structure, and familiarizes them with the typical demands, responsibilities and routine found in the job market. At completion, many participants feel proud to have persevered. It is an important step towards self-actualization.”
Alumni continue to receive both practical and emotional support to secure and maintain employment. Bank Hapoalim’s Krupik believes that the continuing engagement is key for the women’s long-term success, and for creating meaningful change, “In the end, they will integrate into the workforce, while continuing to receive guidance and support so that they never feel alone. The establishment of ‘circles of impact’ is critical to increasing inclusion and diversity in the workforce: the circle of women, each’s circle of children and family, and the circle of potential employers.”
Over 85% of graduates find long-term employment in fields such as education, sales, real estate, medical and office administration, customer service and others. Alumni often stay connected long after the program is finished, and claim that the program benefited them and their children beyond the value of earning a stable income. Sahar, a recent graduate shared, “I feel independent and in control of my life for the first time. I have my own income, so I can make my own choices.”
*Names have been changed to protect participants’ privacy.