As Shatil marks 30 years of leading social change, the 2013 edition of Shatil Stories is dedicated to Israel’s civil society, which has grown in numbers, influence, and impact over the past three decades. May the next 30 years bring even more citizens to participate actively in shaping a more just, democratic, and shared society.
After a three-month trek in the highlands of Ethiopia and a year’s wait in the steaming Sudanese desert, 12-year-old Fekado Gadamo realized two dreams: He arrived in the longed-for Promised Land – and he held a pencil for the first time.
Despite the challenges of bridging wide educational gaps and supporting himself through university by waiting tables and washing dishes, Fekado earned a B.A. in social work from Haifa University and an M.A. in non profit management from the Hebrew University.
As an activist in Hadera, he volunteered with Tene Briut, an initiative aimed at increasing medical understanding and compliance among Ethiopian immigrants. Fekado became the project’s social worker and then its director.
With Shatil’s help, Tene Briut recently won a government bid to manage health education for Israel’s Ethiopian population. Fekado took his first course from Shatil when he was a community activist and the organization stayed with him as he transformed Tene Briut into an NGO and learned how to lead it. “Shatil has been my guide,” says Fekado. “Shatil staff give from their soul, days, nights and even weekends. I have no words to describe their commitment and support. Most of all, I want to say thank you to Shatil and its partners for all their good work for us and for other organizations.”
The grandchild of immigrants from Djerba, Tunisia, Cohen was born and raised in Kiryat Malachi, one of 11 siblings. As a child, she was very interested in the political happenings at the Knesset.
Years later, when she became head server of food and drink at Knesset meetings, Shira enjoyed being in the know about legislation and developed good relations with Knesset members. When a new contractor refused to rehire Cohen after 12 years of work, she suspected the reason was her involvement in workplace organizing efforts.
With the support and encouragement of Shatil and the NIF-supported National Coalition for Direct Employment, Cohen took her case to court – and won in a precedent-setting decision that protects the rights of all contract workers.
Cohen credits Shatil and the Coalition with her success. “I was afraid. I knew I was standing against a strong man. But they convinced me that I could do this and gave me the tools and knowledge I needed,” she said. “They supported me from step one and did it in an organized, effective way. Without the help of Shatil and the Coalition, I would not be where I am today.”
Ghadir Hani says her numerous encounters with Shatil helped her to widen her horizons; to grow professionally; to contribute from her experience to the wider society; and, as a self-defined workaholic, to find more balance in her personal life.
“Through Shatil, I’ve been able to focus on issues close to my heart such as the rights of Bedouin working women and the development of a local sustainable economy in the Negev,” she says. “The Beyond Words workshop Shatil brought to our Bedouin Women’s Rights Course was the most important experience I’ve had. I wish every woman in the world could experience this.”
Rights Course graduates continue to meet informally, providing one another with a support as they pursue change in a traditional society. “We are like sisters,” she says. As AJEEC’s coordinator of economic development, Ghadir values the professional peer learning and action she finds in a collaboration with Shatil and Yedid that promotes women’s cooperatives.
Participation in Shatil’s first-ever Arabic language Facilitative Leadership training enabled her to change from “the kind of person who couldn’t rely on others” to one who knows when and how to involve others in decision-making. Through conferences and other public speaking opportunities, Ghadir says Shatil has enabled her to show people “who the Bedouin community is and that we are not a problem but part of the solution. Shatil has changed my life.”
Roman Shneider arrived in Israel at the age of 17 from the Former Soviet Union, began his career as a history and civics teacher and today is in charge of teachers and counselors who work with immigrant pupils for the Ministry of Education.
Along the way, he says, Shatil guided and empowered him and helped create the M.A. degree in educational counseling with a specialization in multi-culturalism that he completed.
Roman first heard the word “NGO” in 2001 and soon after, signed up for a Russian-speaking activists’ training at Shatil. “The concept of a third sector, of citizens influencing policy, of social activism, was foreign to me and to my culture,” he says. “My eyes were opened.”
As program director at the Association for Immigrant Children, Roman received constant guidance from Shatil, especially when the organization implemented part of Shatil’s Back from the Edge project to help immigrant children succeed in school. “In the virtual suitcase I carry are many tools and skills I learned from Shatil,” says Roman. “Shatil identified and defined immigrant youth-at-risk as a field of specialization and helped me to be the best professional I can be.”
At the age of 19, Osnat’s world was overturned by a car accident. She lost the use of her arms and legs — and gained an identity as a change-maker.
Her journey to leadership began with a cooperative project of the Haifa University Law Faculty and feminist organization, Itach-Maaki, to promote leadership in marginalized populations, during which she initiated a project to make gynecology clinics wheelchair accessible.
Shatil trainings helped her through an internal transformation in which she discovered her talent as a leader. Osnat was empowered through the view that people with disabilities are a minority with rights and that the disability is in the limits society places on this population.
Osnat joined Shatil’s Social Change Leadership Forum for Disabled People in Northern Israel, which brings together leaders with physical, sensory, emotional, and cognitive disabilities to promote a common agenda.
After several years, Osnat took over the group’s leadership from Shatil. “Shatil gives me support for every step from every side – from the managers to the administrative staff,” says Osnat. “This network and this solidarity enable me to be the best that I can be.”