The Society for the Advancement of Education, Jerusalem (SAE) recently received a grant from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support two Learning Centers for Children of Asylum Seekers and Economic Migrants.
The SAE, established in 1962, is a non-profit organization with the goal of bridging social and educational gaps in Israel while cultivating excellence among youth. Through its network of schools, residences and extra-curricular programs that respond to the needs of numerous sectors within Israeli society (Ultra-Orthodox, National Religious, Secular, Arab), the SAE offers optimal opportunities for education and achievement for all of the country’s children.
SAE are now using its experience and expertise to assist the children of asylum seekers and economic migrants by establishing Learning Centers for children in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in partnership with the local government and other non-profit organizations.
The need is acute, as over 38,000 African migrants – refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants – live in Israel. The vast majority of them, from Sudan and Eritrea, fled to Israel from countries rife with human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing. Many entered Israel illegally, and most of them have no defined status.
It is common for these families live in the most basic survival conditions, forcing parents to work long hours with no framework for their children. The ad hoc solution has been “pirate” centers operated by members of the community, in which children are often neglected and provided with minimal stimulation.
Children from this community are liable to develop significant learning and social gaps in relation to their Israeli peers, derived from attending insufficient preschool frameworks, difficulties in language acquisition, lack of support in their family environment and emotional distress. They spend long hours without parental supervision, many times wandering the streets, exposed to negative phenomena and anti-social behaviors. Many are children of single mothers, who need to provide for the family without any system of support. These circumstances increase both the risk to the children’s lives and their needs.
In order to improve the situation of children in Tel Aviv’s foreign community (largely, but not exclusively, African), SAE, along with Mesila – the Tel Aviv Municipality’s Center for Counseling, Support and Information for the Foreign Community – established an after-school learning center in south Tel Aviv for them. The center, which is now in its second year, accommodates 15 children in fourth through sixth grade, offering them a constructive framework in which they build basic literacy skills, critical thinking and initiative, and where they receive a hot meal, which they often do not get at home.
A similar center has recently opened in Jerusalem, as a collaboration between SAE, the Municipality of Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem African Community Center (JACC). The center is located in the JACC building in downtown Jerusalem and operates three days a week from 2:00-6:00 pm, serving 15-17 children from a variety of schools. The center is staffed by a half-time coordinator, funded by the Jerusalem Municipality, and a teacher for remedial learning. The children also receive a hot meal at this center, contributed by the Jerusalem Foundation.
The goal of the Learning Centers is to give the children a secure, protected, positive environment after school hours, which will support the necessary learning processes for their age group, assist in closing the gaps, and assess learning and emotional difficulties as needed.
SAE is seeking funding partners for the Learning Centers to join with the UNHCR and other supporters to provide the resources needed to expand the hours and services provided to children of asylum seekers and economic migrants in Israel.