Working With Refugees in South Tel Aviv
by Sarah Mednick
Through the Reform Movement’s Tikkun Olam program in Israel, I’ve been volunteering at Hagar & Miriam, an organization that provides guidance and support for pregnant refugees from Eritrea, Darfur and other parts of Africa, who live in south Tel Aviv. This Wednesday, we volunteers finally received our ‘next steps’ and ‘intake’ forms in Tigrinya, the language spoken in Eritrea. (Ninety-nine percent of the women we see are from Eritrea and don’t speak much English or Hebrew.) This will literally change my life. Why? So many reasons!
When I first started doing intakes, we had to write down by hand the next thing that each woman had to do. This took about 10 minutes per woman, since often they had to do a lot of things. Additionally, almost none of them can read English or Hebrew, so they didn’t understand, and we had to find someone to help explain it to them. This took time, as well. There was no standard form to give them that said “Here’s what you do now.” We just let them go. Also, we spent about 10 minutes with each woman at the beginning of the intake trying to determine her age, where she’s from, how many months pregnant, etc. A few weeks ago, I wrote up a special intake form for the women to fill out while they wait, so we can get past the basic info in 30 seconds and take more time to really talk to them.
These forms literally changed my life as a volunteer. Also, I started using them the week that my friend Clara joined me for intakes. She does such a fabulous job keeping the women in line, determining if they even need to see me, and making sure I that go quickly with each client so I can see more of them. Together, we have made serious headway in making Hagar & Miriam more efficient.
But even with the forms in English, we still needed someone who speaks Tigrinya to help them understand where we’ve directed them to go. There are two Eritrean nurses who volunteer on Wednesdays, but they are stretched so thin that they certainly don’t have time to speak to every woman we see. So I’ve been working with another Eritrean volunteer the past few weeks to translate the forms. On Wednesday, we got them. We also printed out maps of where certain doctors’ offices are so they can just give the sheet to a cab driver if they can’t figure out the location on their own. Here are photos!
Now we can give each woman a sheet containing information on pre-natal vitamins, health insurance, doctors’ offices, and blood test locations all in her native language. We highlight the things she needs to do and can be sure that she will do them. She can also now fill out the initial intake form in her native language, so that she doesn’t need any help from English speakers. This means that she’ll answer all of the questions correctly, and won’t leave any questions blank. Not only does this make the volunteers’ lives so much easier, not only does it mean that they are more likely to get the right care, it means that maybe they can feel a little more empowered in the whole process.
I love my job!