The African Community Center's tutoring program is definitely one of the most important projects the center has been facilitating over the last two years. With the help of our devoted volunteers, this framework provides the children in the community with the help of an Israeli tutor once a week during the afternoon. Today, this project includes 15 tutors paired with children, and is managed by Ornit Yehosha and Ehud Keidar.
"The tutor," says Ornit, "is like an 'Israeli older brother'. He helps the child with homework, reads them stories and takes them to see different places in the city such as museums." Moreover, the tutor is an empowering figure in the child's life in many ways. "Even though the teachers and student councilors with whom I have been in contact with were very devoted to the community's children, many times these children 'disappear in the crowd'. The parents are not always able to get to parent's meetings for many reasons- sometimes because they work for long hours and sometimes because they are worried that they won’t be able to understand. Here is where the tutor comes in, helping bridge the gap in communication.”
According to Ornit, a noticeable gap exists between the community's children and the other kids in the schools. Among other reasons, this stems from the way the community's children are integrated into the Israeli educational system. "The Israeli compulsory educational law applies to every child in Israel, including the community's children, above the age of three. There is no doubt that this important law contributes much to the development of the community children. However, a major problem in this regard is the children’s access to education until they reach the age of three. Although all weak populations in Israel suffer from this problem, it becomes more acute in the case of community's children, who are not eligible for subsides or support from the state before the age of three. What usually happen is that parents from the community take their children to unsupervised educational frameworks that do not provide the children with the proper tools in order to develop their motoric and cognitive skills. Hence, there is no doubt that these children need extra support in order to 'catch up' with other children in the same age."
Another problem, Ornit adds, is that it is very difficult for these children to acquire a mother tongue. "In one of the kindergartens, for example, there is an Arab staff. The children are Filipino, Ethiopian, and Eritrean, which means that four different languages are being used in the kindergarten simultaneously. And it doesn’t end there. When these children come back home, their parents speak to them in broken Hebrew because they want them to know Hebrew. Thus, eventually, these children do not acquire a strong enough knowledge of any language and do not have a mother tongue. Not many people know that it is more difficult for children without a mother tongue to learn languages. This is why many of the community's children can't read and write in Hebrew until a very late age." Thus, Ornit explains, "even though the community's children starting point in the Israeli educational system is equal to other children when they reach the age of three, they suffer from significant gaps. This is one of the problems our project aims to address."
But the importance of this project, Ornit emphasizes, stems not only from the help the tutors provide for the child. "The tutor is our representative in the family's house, he is our ears and eyes, and he knows what the family's needs are. Many times, the tutors manage to help the whole family by offering them different services we provide in our center, from social events to rights awareness, advocacy and support. Hence, the tutors are important figures not just for the children, but also for the entire family."
The tutors, a diverse group of teenagers, university students and retirees, get a wide web of support. They all meet once a month with a professional staff to share their difficulties, as well as their achievements. In this framework, the tutors receive professional guidance and the proper tools they need to handle the great responsibility that comes with this role.
In conclusion, Ornit notes that the tutoring program is successful, and stands the test of time. "One of the girls that received a tutor, who couldn't read or write in Hebrew by the end of the fifth grade, is now an A student. And this is not the only case where we have managed to achieve significant progress." As a result of this progress, the parents in the community like for their children to participate in the program, so that the tutor will assist their children in ways that they themselves are not always able. "I have a long waiting list," says Ornit, "but unfortunately the demand is much higher that the number of tutors we can offer. The problem is that although there are many volunteers that are willing to participate in this program, we cannot expand it without hiring a person that would be able to dedicate more time for it. As volunteers, we can do a lot, and this project proves that. But sometimes, even most of the time, it is hardly enough."