A word from Aliza Olmert, President of the Board of Unitaf
When I think about my vision for Unitaf, I realize that for me, the vision is in the work we do here everyday, in the classrooms and in the playground, in the hard work and the daily tasks.
I am one for tasks and hard work. I seek solutions for obstacles that come my way. Who knows if I seek out issues that radiate need, or if it is that I simply have my eye trained to look at reality in the face. Whatever it is, when I encounter human suffering, I am compelled to act.
I am motivated to action when human potential is stamped out or eroded due to unjust circumstances. This is especially true for children in their earliest years—when talent and ability can be nurtured and cultivated with love and care, or obstructed and harmed by neglect.
My first encounter with the refugee community was with the pirate nurseries, which we also call, “children’s warehouses” for the volume of children kept in poorly maintained structures inadequate staffed by untrained women. This is a cruel outcome of mothers’ survival necessities. And then I met Unitaf, and I saw how humane care can make a world of difference.
Using minimal resources, Unitaf offers children a fair shot at achieving their developmental potential. Unitaf offers hope, amidst this dismal reality, and ignited my sense of unrest to join their effort to do what I could to bring more babies under the protective umbrella of Unitaf, and out of the dreaded “warehouses.”
Unitaf began as a joint effort with the Tel-Aviv municipality in 2005 in the Tikva neighborhood with a day-care center with 60 babies. In 2014, due to a scarcity of available structures, we created the home-nurseries model. Joining forces with the local Catholic church we created a model whereby one woman could care for 6 babies in addition to one of her own in her own home, in a small and intimate setting suited to the harsh realities of women from the asylum-seeker community. The first home nursery started inside the church, and two years later we opened our 9th nursery, providing quality care for 60 babies.
This remarkable collaboration between the community and professionals has created a worthy model to emulate. And indeed, the Israeli Government officials who studied the Unitaf model created a plan to expand the Unitaf program, and it is my sincerest hope that they will follow through with their plan to care for 1,700 of the 4,500 children in south Tel-Aviv.
This September Unitaf opened the school year with 720 babies and children from 3 months to 6 years of age. Thanks to our friends and partners we have nearly tripled our scope of activity. Our professional and administrative staff works tirelessly to open additional frameworks, which will ultimately lead to a deep and meaningful change in the lives of thousands of stateless children.
We cannot know where the Unitaf children will end up in their lives. Will they continue to live amongst us as stateless people, in constant fear of deportation? Will the state of Israel finally come to the understanding that these long-time residents need legal status and civil rights? Will they be deported to a third-party state or to their own place of origin?
What I do know is that wherever the children end up, they will always carry the Unitaf legacy with them. They will remember that here they were treated with dignity, love, and professionalism—a worthy basis with which to develop a healthy personality, trust in people, and hopefully, a chance at a better life.