“After my divorce,” says Amira, a resident of the Negev town of Dimona, “I was left with nothing, and my ex-husband would not pay child support.” Thirty-eight-year-old Amira had a four-year-old son with little prospects for success. “My debts kept increasing, and I was very frustrated, sick, and broken. I couldn’t raise my son. I couldn’t continue.
“At one point, I was in such financial distress that I couldn’t even afford to purchase bread for my son. I was forced to accept bread from my neighbor and my aunt.” Amira’s future, as well as that of her young child, was in jeopardy.
“I felt like we were missing something.”
Dimona, located thirty minutes from Beersheba and the southern end of the Dead Sea, was founded in 1955 with a population of 300 people and today has grown to a population of some 40,000. The Meir Panim branch in Dimona is one of the organization’s most diverse branches and helps thousands of people throughout the town, providing food and support to the city’s residents. Meir Panim in Dimona supplies 1,000 meals daily to clients and offers a variety of programs for the young and old. It operates a Holocaust Survivor Day Center, where older adults can congregate daily, enjoy hot, nutritious meals, participate in engaging programs, and build a community, and offers an after-school program for children during the school year. Meir Panim in Dimona has numerous partnerships with social workers in the city and an ongoing relationship with the municipality.
Yet, despite the extensive services offered there, Branch Manager Nissim Elmakayes felt something was missing. “I felt that we were missing something that could take people out of the cycle of poverty,” he recalls.
Meir Panim staff witnessed the day-to-day struggles of women living in poverty. For these women, the path to finding a better-paying job, getting an education, or starting a small business was blocked by endless obstacles.
In 2021, Meir Panim, in partnership with the Dimona municipality and the Oganim organization, launched a life-changing program called “Al Telchi Levadech –Don’t Go Alone” to provide job training and education for 15 women. The program offers one-on-one career guidance, job placement, office etiquette training, and financial counseling and helps participants begin their journey toward a life of self-sufficiency. Meir Panim is currently planning to launch a second version of the program in 2024.
“We took people sitting at home in pajamas and watching television all day, doing nothing,” says Elmakayes. “We gave them the tools to get out to and achieve economic freedom. Many of the women in the program were entering the employment market for the first time and were over the age of thirty-five. Elmakayes adds that they explained to the women that obtaining financial independence and getting a job was worthwhile, even if they had to pay a babysitter a significant amount of their salary to enable them to work.
Amira learned about the “Don’t Go Alone” program from the welfare department in Dimona and joined the program. “I began to study to become a nail technician, which was supported by Meir Panim.” Amira successfully completed the program and is now employed in two jobs. In the mornings, she works with the elderly, and she works as a nail technician in the evenings.
“I never thought I could do this, to be able to give my son anything he needs,” she says. “Today, I don’t receive child supports or donations from anyone. I live independently,” she says proudly.
Recounting her difficult life before she successfully entered the workforce, Amira says, “I would look at my son and say, ‘What type of world did I bring you to – what can I give you?’” Meir Panim’s innovative “Don’t Go Alone” program gave her the ability to overcome her difficulties. “Even though it may seem like all is bad and the world is against you, and you have no money, it is possible to get out of this situation. It is not easy, but it is possible.
“There are good people along the way. There are people who do these things and receive nothing in return. They do it simply because it is the right thing to do. Without the help of Meir Panim, I couldn’t have done it.”
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This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim