girl crying 370.
(photo credit: reuters)
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.