Underprivileged students from Jaffa make use of the facilities at Tel Aviv University, thanks to the Price-Brodie Initiative. In a private study room on the sprawling Tel Aviv University campus, first year General Sciences student Mira Kourdie, 20, and her tutor, doctoral student Maya Kochman, 27, face each other across a desk strewn with revision notes.
“Being the first student in my family places extra pressures on me,” says Kouride, the eldest of six siblings. “My father is a bus driver and we are a poor family, but I want to study and pursue a career. I’m not finding it easy to adjust to being a student,” she admits. “There are high expectations from me, and I need financial, academic and psychological support. I would not be able to survive without Maya – I have no one to ask at home.”
Kourdie is one of 25 Israeli Arabs from Jaffa studying at the university thanks to the Price-Brodie Initiative, a unique project involving American philanthropists, Tel Aviv University and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality that is enhancing educational and social opportunities for the disadvantaged youngsters of Jaffa.The program was initiated by TAU President Itamar Rabinovitch when he entered the position in 1999. He approached the U.S. philanthropists after taking the strategic decision that the university must broaden its scope beyond research and contribute to the social sphere of the residents in the Tel Aviv area.
“At the individual level, education is the key to career advancement and personal success,” notes the project’s director, Judith Shvili.
The academic year began with a parents-and-children’s introductory evening in the university grounds, in the affluent northern suburb Ramat Aviv.
“The parents are thirsty for such programs, although many had never been inside a university campus before. It’s important to involve them, so that they will push their children towards academia,” says Shvili.
Jaffa’s population of some 20,000 Arabs and 27,000 Jews constitute one of Tel Aviv’s weakest social-economic links, with high unemployment, rampant crime, and poor social and education facilities. Many of the Jewish population are recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union or Ethiopia, often with limited resources and poor Hebrew.
For Ahmad Drei and his tenth grade classmates from Jaffa’s Shivtei Yisrael High School, this is a special day. “We’ve just returned from lunch in a campus cafeteria and are about to begin a science lesson,” he gleams.
Drei, an Israeli Arab from an underprivileged neighborhood, is enjoying his second of four study days at Tel Aviv University’s pristine campus.
“I feel at home in the campus, and intend to be a student when I’m older,” the young teenager proudly proclaims to his giggling classmates.
Post-graduate biology students guide them through the university’s lush botanical gardens and tropical greenhouses, in groups no larger than 12. The attentive high-schoolers eagerly take notes as their teacher occasionally translates into Arabic.The tuition is hands-on, and for many their first encounter with the term ‘biodiversity’.
“They’re inquisitive and ask lots of questions,” enthralls program coordinator Anat Feldman. “We’re introducing them to science softly – first they see a leaf, then they ask why it’s green.”
Drei, a participant in the ‘Young Scientists on the Nature Campus’ program for 9th -12th graders, is one of almost 3,000 Jewish and Arab school and kindergarten pupils – two thirds of children enrolled in Jaffa’s public school system – benefiting from a plethora of programs conducted by the Price Brody project’s Enrichment Unit. These include early education courses fostering literacy, learning skills for 2nd to 6th graders and pre-academic preparatory classes.
The Price-Brodie Initiative mimics a successful ongoing project by San Diego State University involving residents of City Heights, a sprawling, mainly Hispanic poverty-stricken neighborhood.
“Five years ago, Tel Aviv university made a strategic decision to adopt the Jaffa community,” says Shvili, pointing to a reciprocal benefit: the increased social awareness of some 40 faculty and 250 post-graduate students (who either receive stipends or are credited for practicum) from their exposure to Jaffa’s problems.
The Price-Brodie Initiative is bolstering Jaffa’s social services, with social programs focused on two problem neighborhoods: Jaffa Gimmel and the Ajami Quarter.
Helping preserve embers of understanding and cooperation, the Initiative’s Professional Training Unit for public sector employees conveys Learning Strategies for schoolteachers and Conflict Mediation for police officers. The Jewish-Arab Cooperation Unit meanwhile facilitates for Jaffa’s multiculturalism with groups of women, children, youth and the elderly employing arts such as theatre and storytelling for ground-level cultural dialogue.
The Unit for Developing Active Members in the Community trains motivated neighborhood residents in youth leadership and community-police mediation, while the Overall Community Services Unit supports existing frameworks such as legal aid, dental care education, psychological services and social workers.
With an annual budget around $1 million, including $700,000 donated by the San Diego-based Price family, there are already some tangible achievements.
Jaffa’s multitude problems include many unresolved issues, and the problematic political and security situation of the past three years has had serious consequences. Yet the project continues to promote better Arab-Jewish relations and the law clinic puts a strong emphasis on issues related to the civil rights of the Arab minority in Jaffa.
Now in the fourth year of its planned five-year scope, the Price-Brodie Initiative is starting to have a real impact on the lives of people of Jaffa.