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Assisting those suffering from emotional distress
By RANA ABBAS
15/12/2013
Sahar is a non-profit organization that offers free Internet assistance in Arabic to people who are experiencing emotional difficulties.
 
Sahar is a non-profit organization that offers free Internet assistance in Arabic to people who are experiencing emotional difficulties. The site offers complete anonymity to people who are depressed or suicidal and need someone to lend an ear.

The organization was founded in 2000 and in 2010 began offering services to the Arabic-speaking community in Israel. Sahar offers immediate assistance through a variety of Internet media, and has trained professionals on staff who are available to offer assistance. People can contact the organization through the website at www.sahar-arabic.org or through the organization’s Facebook page.

Sahar’s board of directors includes experts in the fields of psychology and psychiatry.

The organization’s professional team includes the director, Sammy Hamdan, who is a researcher of suicide in the Arab population and a lecturer at the Academic College of Tel Aviv; the professional manager, Rana Abbas, who has an MA in criminology and is a doctoral student of sociology; and a volunteer coordinator, Walaa Hajajra, who is working on a master’s degree in psychology.

Over the past few years, Sahar has held four training courses for Arabic-speaking volunteers. The courses, which are taught by Jewish and Arab professionals and lecturers, are aimed at providing volunteers with the tools, knowledge and emotional support needed to prepare them for manning the emergency Internet hotline. A total of 50 participants have now successfully completed the course.

20 volunteers are currently actively working on the site, in addition to the management staff which supervises and guides the volunteers in their intensive work. A new mixed Jewish-Arab course to train volunteers will also begin in the near future.

Over the years, the number of Arabic-speaking volunteers who have approached Sahar in search of a place where they can truly help their communities has risen greatly.

As a result, we are able to help more and more Arabic-speaking people who turn to Sahar for assistance.

The Sahar hotline currently operates five days a week between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (the service is not available on Tuesdays or Fridays) and our goal is to extend these hours as more volunteers complete their training courses and subsequently join our staff.

From its onset, Sahar has helped more than 3,000 people who have contacted the organization directly. Women make up the lion’s share of the people who have been helped by our volunteers (76 percent), and most of the people looking to Sahar for help are between the ages of 18-25 (68%). Another 19% are teens, 10% are between the ages 25-30 and only 3% are above the age of 30. A whopping 91% of people who turn to us for assistance are single. Eight percent are married and only 1% are divorced. In our experience we have found that Israeli Arabic-speakers converse with volunteers about issues that are very different from problems that are more common among Hebrew-speakers. This is another reason why the role Sahar plays in our community is so significant. 32% of the people who’ve contacted Sahar ask to speak about physical ailments such as handicaps, diabetes and cancer or about mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and self-injury.

In addition, 28% of the people who contact the crisis center have difficulties with interpersonal relationships, including parent-child communication issues.

A large percentage of conversations focus on societal restrictions and the ways communities view love, choice of spouse and sex. Another topic that is regularly discussed is domestic violence.

26% of the people who turn to Sahar for assistance admit to having experienced violence at the hands of a family member, be it a parent, a spouse or a sibling. All complaints regarding sexual violence and sexual harassment are also included in this category.

Sahar has made a point to hire staff people with special training to deal with people with suicidal tendencies. 10% of people who turn to Sahar for assistance admit to having had suicidal thoughts or to have attempted suicide. In addition, another 4% of Arabic speakers who’ve contacted us describe their problems as economically related, or problems exacerbated by lack of employment.

The benefits that we offer the Arabic-speaking population in Israel is tremendous, since no other organization offers online services to deal with emotional problems in the Arab community. To the best of our knowledge, Sahar’s hotline is actually the only Arabic-language online service for people in distress offered anywhere around the world. Sahar has succeeded in breaking down societal barriers so that it can offer timely and professional services and emotional support for everyone who turns to our volunteers through our website. Many people contact us from the West Bank and from Gaza, but we also receive requests from people all around the Arab world.

Yet we still have so many challenges left to overcome. We hope to increase awareness and spread the word that this service is available to the public so that we can reach as many people as possible. We are also always looking for additional volunteers to keep our support center running. At the same time, as a non-profit organization, we are always in need of donations so that we will have the necessary funds to keep Sahar alive. We are 100% dependent on private donations from individuals and funds. For the first two years, Sahar received start-up funding from the Israel social security office, but now that the program is up and running, we are responsible for raising all funds. To that end, we are in the midst of approaching private individuals and foundations in search of sources for future funding.

The author is the professional manager of Sahar, has an MSW in social work and an MA in criminology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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