Mural painted in project by diplomatic spouses to help migrant children in south Tel Aviv.
Equipped with paintbrushes and aprons, the toddlers of Hagmon Kindergarten, a center for children of African migrants and asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, were all smiles this week as they received an unexpected surprise.
The Diplomatic Spouses of Israel (DSI), a group of some 170 spouses of accredited diplomats from more than 50 countries, together with internationally renowned artists Max Levi Frieder and Joel Bergner of Artolution, joined the children to paint a symbolic mural and beautify the kindergarten.
“We decided to help this particular kindergarten, which had been dealt with many blows,” Julie Fisher, president of the DSI and wife of US Ambassador Dan Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post.
In recent weeks the kindergarten has been the site of hate crimes by neighbors, who threw dead animals, garbage and feces into the play space, rendering it dangerous and unsanitary for the children to play outside.
“Each year the DSI adopts a charity to work with and this year we voted to work with UNITAF,” explained Fisher.
This past week the DSI held a luncheon and raised NIS 24,000 for UNITAF, a nonprofit organization that helps establish educational and welfare frameworks for African migrants and asylum seekers and which runs the kindergarten.
Through this effort, the kindergarten renovated its playground, covering the dirty sand with synthetic grass and stretching canopies atop the play area to create shade and protection from the neighbors’ vandalism.
“This was the first time in many weeks the kids and also the teachers could go outside again and feel safe doing so,” she said.
In addition to renovating the playground, artists Frieder and Bergner, who have regularly worked with the US Embassy on artistic projects, volunteered their time to paint a large mural on the building’s entrance together with the children.
“Before we began to paint we had conversations with the teachers and staff, a lot of who come from West African countries and we asked them if there was a symbol that was important to them,” Frieder told the Post.
“Many of them said elephants, which to them represent wisdom, and so we decided to paint a mural with a mother and baby elephant,” he explained.
“We recently worked with students in Taiba a few months after the murder of the principal of their school,” Frieder said.
“We were basically creating a memorial for the principal and allowing the students and the community to heal,” he explained. “We wanted to tell the story of the hopes for the future of Taiba.”
In Israel, the two have worked to bridge gaps and create a shared dialogue through art, painting murals with traumatized children on the Gaza border, Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, and Haredi and secular groups.
“We are trying to promote trans-cultural communication,” he said. “Students can see each other’s work and learn about each other through our website and hopefully through this create a dialogue.”
Principal Mariana Antoniuk told the Post that the majority of the children are Eritreans who were born in Israel.
“A lot of their parents came from Eritrea and walked through Sudan to Egypt and cross the Sinai to Israel,” she said. “Some experienced unimaginable horrors during this journey.”
The state of migrant day care centers in south Tel Aviv jumped to the top of the headlines last year after five babies died in the course of two months. The migrant child care centers – dubbed “child warehouses” –are overcrowded, unsanitary and unregulated centers that provide a solution for the children of foreign migrants who have no other framework to care for their children while they are at work.
Ofira Ben Shlomo, UNITAF’s director, told the Post that in south Tel Aviv there are currently more than 4,500 babies and children up to the age of six in day care – 90% of whom are in dangerous and unsanitary conditions.
“Unitaf was established to provide an alternative to this reality to help this population group that has no real rights,” she said. “If in the [migrant] day care centers there are 30 kids with one caregiver, Unitaf centers have one caregiver for every six children, like the Israeli model,” she explained.
“Our emphasis is on community involvement rather than just receiving charity,” she explained.
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