In April, Kayan’s Empowerment and Community Organizing Coordinator Reem Zoabi traveled to the United States to participate in a weeklong seminar with the Boston Haifa Connection. The workshop dealt primarily with the roles of professionals working to promote social justice in diverse communities. For the past year, Reem has participated in the “Lead Haifa” course on community work, social responsibility and leadership through the Boston-Haifa Connection, Shatil, the Council for Volunteer Organizations, Boston Center for Community and Justice, and the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMASS Boston. The weeklong meeting in Boston enabled the participants of “Lead Haifa” to connect with their overseas partners for an exchange of ideas that allowed these leaders to address social justice issues of mutual concern while deepening and strengthening their interpersonal connections.
Along with attending lectures given by professors and professionals in the field of community work, Reem had the opportunity to visit two non-profit organizations in Boston, Project Hope and Rosie’s Place. Project Hope works to move families beyond homelessness and poverty by providing low-income women with access to education, jobs, housing and emergency services. Reem also visited Rosie’s Place, a shelter for poor and homeless women that offers an advocacy program to prevent homelessness. This organization accepts no governmental funds, relying instead upon committed volunteers and individual supporters to accomplish its work. Reem recognized the issues and controversies surrounding this policy, saying that not taking funds from the government can be “like giving the government a free pass, and saying ‘I will do the job’ – even though it’s supposed to be the government’s job to take care of these communities.”
Boston, like Haifa, is an extremely diverse city. Reem visited a number of ethnically mixed communities, analyzing issues of social justice in Boston. She was struck by the nature of social work in the U.S., in which community workers are “more like case workers.” In Israel, Reem remarked, social workers and government institutions “work as therapists.” She articulated of this phenomenon, “Social work is supposed to be more about social networks and building communities, and not about therapy. We can leave that to psychologists.” Learning from professional social workers was an enriching experience, as Reem was able to see her job from a different, outside perspective. She hopes to bring this critical, global outlook into her everyday experiences working with Palestinian grassroots women leaders in Israel.