Natie Shevel, UJIA Regional Director in Israel

Natie Shevel, UJIA Regional Director in Israel

By Natie SHEVEL, UJIA Regional Director in Israel

Would you be surprised if I told you that 20 percent of children in the Galil, northern Israel, live below the poverty line? How about 30 percent? It’s actually 45 percent, which is pretty shocking, given that Israel is such an advanced economy. But the fact is, without the right attention, people, or whole regions, get left behind.

UJIA’s most recent advert in this newspaper depicted a typically prosperous Tel Aviv beachfront image with the headline: ‘A picture of deprivation?’ We wanted to bring to people’s attention the fact that Israel’s entrenched socio-economic challenges are largely hidden behind the alternative experiences of Israel that most of us have.

Part of the problem is that when people come to Israel, they see a thriving economy, a bustling metropolis.

But there’s another side of Israel and that is the peripheral Israel. Our decision to focus on the Galil, in the north, gives us a tremendous opportunity of being able to work with significant charitable and governmental partners to make real and lasting change, impacting peoples’ lives and the sustainable development of the region.

Working in the Galil, I can testify not only to its captivating beauty and diversity, but also to the fact it has been consistently held back by a lack of investment, poor transport, and educational and employment opportunities.

We know children can’t thrive when average earnings are the lowest in Israel, and when generations of young people feel compelled to leave for the bright lights of central Israel, constantly depriving the region of its most precious assets.

Our strategy in the region can be boiled down to two words: education and employment. By investing in educational infrastructures and programmes in the region from early childhood through to higher education, we are ensuring that young people in the region are gaining the tools, skills and training they need to excel and succeed.

One example is the Hemed Primary School in Merom HaGalil, where one third of families are under the care of welfare services. This was a school that in 2006 was on the verge of being closed down. It was ineffective, not feasible, with very poor facilities: 130 pupils and staff shared just one working toilet.

Merom Hagalil, where a third of households are under the care of welfare services

Merom Hagalil, where a third of households are under the care of welfare services

With our governmental and philanthropic partners, we developed a plan for the rejuvenation of Merom HaGalil’s educational infrastructures and long-term educational provision, including the school’s complete renovation and the development of an adjacent early childhood centre and sports facilities. We put together a team of partners and professionals and the result is miraculous.

The lovely campus, where children’s needs are met, is now a haven where they are nurtured and inspired, and a communal centre of excellence and pride that’s transformed an entire community.

With the generous support of the UK community, we are funding and supporting projects and programmes from Akko to Tsfat to Tel-Hai and you can see the change. Young people in the Galil now have new and improved schools and higher education facilities, more scholarships, a medical school and special educational programmes to help those with learning difficulties.

From supporting exceptional organisations such as Kibbutz Eshbal, which is bringing young Israelis back from criminality and marginalisation, to funding a new School of Management at Western Galilee College, ensuring locally trained people for local jobs, UJIA is making a lasting, positive impact.

We’ve achieved so much already, with nearly 15,000 children and young people directly impacted so far. But if we want to reverse the fortunes of the 45 percent of children living under the poverty line, we need to continue to reach out to the UK community, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Our campaign: ‘Make your mark on the Jewish story’ is a call to action to engage with the real Israel and help make a difference. In the periphery of Israel, there is so much still to do and if you want to contribute to strategic, long-term change in Israel, you’ll know we are there on the ground.

You can join us by giving what you can, thereby helping to build a future for the people of Israel.

• To make a contribution visit www.ujia.org/donate