Earlier this March, Israel held its annual “Yom Ma’asim Tovim”, or “Good Deeds Day. Like “Make a Difference Day” in the US, events were organized all over the country to involve Israelis in doing for others. But at the Golda Meir Mt. Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) “Yom Ma’asim Tovim” is a regular, everyday occurrence.
Two weeks ago I visited the center to see firsthand the astonishing humanitarian work taking place there.
On this particular day, twenty-four participants were taking part in a course on early identification of children with autism within the training program. The need is urgent, as in many parts of the world these children are not diagnosed until they reach primary school, delaying essential intervention by years.
The participants, all professors of education, teachers, psychologists, directors of NGO’s, and government leaders, and nearly all women, hailed from Ghana, Kenya, El Salvador, Nepal, India, Georgia and more. Other than their plane tickets, the entire cost of their weeks of training, room, board, and site visits was paid for by MASHAV– Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, part of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
By sharing what they know, Israel provides “in-kind” support to developing nations and creates immeasurable good will.
Director Noga Zimerman explains, “This center was founded by Golda Meir in 1961. She was a Foreign Minister, went to Africa,and saw this overwhelming need. Within that need, women were even worse off, poorer. So Golda Meir came back to Israel and had the idea of founding a center that would work primarily around gender issues.
MCTC’s impact is felt around the globe. Over the past 52 years some 19,000 professionals from over 150 countries have been provided with the tools for empowerment and development. From Albania to Zimbabwe participants have benefited from Israeli know-how in three key areas of study: Management and Organization of Microenterprises, Community Development, and Early Childhood Education. Gender is a cross-cutting issue.
By advancing the status of women the whole society moves forward.
Thirty courses are offered at the Haifa center each year, and thirty more on-site in the developing world. Partners include UN Women, UNESCO, UNECE, UNODC, UNAIDS, OCSE, IOM, and other international agencies.
Training seminars range from 4-5 days up to a month. Many trainings are taught in English, others are taught in Russian, French, Spanish, and Arabic by MCTC’s multi-lingual staff. The center is located on a quiet, shady street, high above Haifa’s picturesque harbor.
MCTC’s helping hand is extended both far and as near as the Palestinian territories. Four or five times a year groups of West Bank Palestinian women come together with Israeli women for several days to focus on a specific topic, such as entrepreneurship or health care.
Deputy Director Hava Karrie reflects on the people-to-people experience. “We are all mothers, we are all people, we just want our children to be safe. It’s really an eye-opener when you see how the Palestinian and Israeli women come at the beginning, apprehensive, distraught. After three days they are hugging each other. It’s just amazing to see what’s done in three days.”
Adds Zimerman, “I always give an opening presentation to explain why Israel is so involved in international development work. Israel is a land that is very short on resources- water, oil, people, land.” The Palestinian women react with laughter to this idea, viewing Israel as a land of plenty. But spending three to four days together in this kind of close interaction “gets beyond all of the misconceptions and preconceived notions. It has an impact.”
Lengthier programs for Palestinian women and men are offered as well. Karrie recalled a 20-day training that was set up for twenty-five Palestinian participants from the communications and cell phone sector. Just after the participants arrived at MCTC a bus bombing occurred in Israel, killing a number of Israeli children. The security situation was tense.
The participants fully expected to be sent back to the West Bank. To their great relief and amazement they were told that the training would go on as planned. They were welcome, indeed encouraged, to stay. Recalled Karrie, “They were so thrilled and happy. At the end of the course, the thanks was just unbelievable.
You change these peoples’ perspective on Israel.”
Do you care about women’s empowerment? Then this story us for you. Imagine a Kenyan village where all of the fishing is controlled by men. In order to get fish, women had to literally sell their bodies to the fisherman. MCTC taught a group of Kenyan women how to organize their own fishing enterprise. By coincidence a Kenyan government official was also at MCTC for training on women’s political empowerment. She assured the women that she would secure the needed funds for them- and she did. Boom! MCTC brought together the people and the training to make life a lot better for women in that corner of the world.
The wide-ranging programs include courses on human trafficking, and training that Israeli Supreme Court justices provide for supreme court judges from other countries. Learning how Israel’s laws criminalize violence against women and children can spur changes in countries where such laws are weak or non-existent.
Regarding future goals, both Zimerman and Karrie spoke with one voice. “We would love to expand our work with our neighbors.” The center has a long history of working with Jordanians, some participants from Morocco, but few other Arab countries.
The participants overflowed with praise for the calibre of the course, what they observed in Israeli schools, and Israel itself.
“The visits we have made to various schools have opened our eyes to the things we need to put in place.” What can they take home and implement? “The care, the attention, individualized teaching, materials, everything, everything.”
“The schools here are amazing… The world has a lot to learn from Israel.”
Most moving of all were the womens’ reflections on Israel itself.
“I have learned about the culture of cooperation and long suffering. Israel does a lot of long suffering. They are dedicated and they work happily without complaint”
The African teachers were astonished at the ethnic diversity they saw and how well people from so many different backgrounds seemed to get along.
“You can’t tell who is who. These people from Israel…they have a spirit of human beings, human souls. Israel is so developed, maybe this spirit of togetherness is what is making them move a lot higher.
“The land is so carefully developed and cultivated, everything is well planned and organized. If a country is guided by these principles, you will always develop. Everyone should come and have a taste of what is going on in Israel.”