photo: Tamir Elterman
Operating since 2015 in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services and the Rashi Foundation, Families First offers a comprehensive approach to help families out of poverty over a two-year period, focusing on six main areas: cultivating employment skills; utilizing applicable government benefits; household budgeting; accessing community resources; providing for basic essentials; and offering parenting support.
Hundreds of social workers and family mentors work with 13,000 Israeli families in 113 cities to map their paths out of poverty.
This is Nitza’s experience of continuing her work in the age of COVID-19.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic with people living in poverty means meeting with Shelley — worried about the virus, about losing her job, about having enough for food for her family during lockdown. She doesn’t have a credit card and can’t order things online, so she depends on the kindness of her neighborhood grocer who will sell to her on credit. All of this assumes that he opens his store as an elderly person who is high-risk for complications from COVID-19.
It means meeting Hannah, who’s been exposed to a confirmed case and must go into isolation. She won’t be able to come outside for food vouchers or packages, nor will she be able to pick up the prepared food she usually receives for her young children, who do not know how to cook.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic with people living in poverty means hearing Shiran cry as her children fight over whose turn it is to use the family’s one old computer to participate in online classes — and in between all that, looking for ways to keep her daughter with special needs occupied.
It means hearing from Ruth, who was fired and told she would have been able to continue working from home had she only owned a computer. It means being disappointed she hadn’t called us sooner. Maybe we could have helped.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic with people living in poverty means debating whether to connect your own daughter to distance-learning classes while you know that most of your clients’ children can’t do the same, since they live in homes without computers.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic with people living in poverty means debating whether to connect your own daughter to distance-learning classes while you know that most of your clients’ children can’t do the same.
It means dealing with families’ anxieties about going out and holding their loneliness and fear of an unknown enemy, while we, too, deal with the same fears — concerned for our children and parents, worried about income reductions, scared for spouses who have been fired or furloughed.
Working during the coronavirus pandemic with people living in poverty means that the successes we’ve worked so hard on in partnership with our families — individual financial management mentoring programs, workforce integration and job advancement programs, and more — are falling away. We’re left to pick up the pieces, lift up our heads, regroup, and move on.
And still, to work during the coronavirus pandemic is to get excited when families come to an important meeting with you despite their fears of infection, just celebrating the chance to be together and express their gratitude.
It means admiring the way our families allow themselves to be helped by all we have to give, and it means accepting from them the strength and motivation to continue in our work.
Nitza Kamil is a Families First social worker in Tel Aviv.