New Paths For Working Poor

When Hala Raroon, 32, graduated high school, she hoped to become a secretary in her village, Isfiya.

Ashteak was the first person that ever believed in me that way.

After her wedding and the birth of two children, though, she found a lack of professional opportunities for working moms in the majority-Druze village of about 16,000 in northern Israel, about 20 minutes southeast of Haifa.

But when it became clear her husband’s salary as a factory worker wasn’t enough for their family to live on, Hala again began searching in earnest for a job.

After several unsuccessful interviews, she turned to Ashteak Allwa, 46, the coordinator at Isfiya’s community center, for advice.

Her friend responded by referring Hala to the JDC-developed Eshet Chayil program, which endeavors to get women from traditional communities (Israeli Arab, Ethiopian-Israeli, and more) into the workforce.

Ashteak helped Hala secure a job as a saleswoman at a perfume shop. And after a year of Eshet Chayil training, she found better work—as a secretary at a day center for Druze elderly.

Still, her family struggled to make ends meet.

That’s when Ashteak recommended Hala for Kidum, JDC’s new professional development and career advancement program for the working poor—part of Tevet, the JDC-Government of Israel partnership to promote employment across the country.

One year later, Hala has two months to go before completing a bookkeeping course. Working with Ashteak, her boss has agreed to make Hala the day center’s account manager.

Hala’s salary has already risen 45 percent from the moment she began to work with Ashteak, and the promotion stands to come with a significant salary bump, too.

It was no miracle. Ashteak and the Kidum program helped Hala through a series of personal meetings, scholarships, and motivating conversations encouraging her to speak to her boss about opportunities for advancement.

“Everyone deserves a chance like this. This empowered me, and I hope others can do what I did,” Hala says. “It’s so important to me that my children see me, a mother who works, as a role model. We have a new rhythm in our household.”

Kidum focuses on low-income workers who have held jobs for at least 18 months of the last two years. Working one-on-one with employment counselors, participants aim to boost their salary, improve their hours and work conditions, find satisfying and meaningful work, and develop new professional skills.

That individual guidance is essential, Hala says. Ashteak was also an ally in convincing Hala’s skeptical husband that the Kidum training was valuable.

“Ashteak never stopped believing in me, always telling me that she knew I’d succeed,” Hala recalls. “She was the first person that ever believed in me that way. She gave me the confidence I needed to succeed.”

Kidum was a vehicle of self-improvement for Ashteak, too. Working in the village community center, she often spoke to women about their financial and family challenges. She’d ask women what the problem was, and she “always heard the same answer.”

“I don’t earn enough money, and what I make, I give right to my husband,” she remembers them saying. “But I always knew how to talk to these women, how to help them.”

When Eshet Chayil came to the village, the mayor personally called Ashteak and asked her to spearhead the program. Now, she’s helped mentor three groups of participants, working to find jobs for 65 women.

She’s currently working with six women through Kidum.

“I love being the point person for helping other women realize their own potential,” she says, almost bashfully.

Spend a few minutes talking to Hala, and it’s clear Ashteak and Kidum are on to something.

“I always recommend women to take part in Kidum, and I start with my own story: ‘Look at me, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve done,’” Hala says with a smile. “It doesn’t stop here, that’s for sure.”