Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Aleh 101

Not Aleh
The CEO of Lumos, Georgette Mulheir, announced today that the non-profit, founded by J.K. Rowling in 2005, was the 2015 overall winner of the Civil Society’s Media Charity Awards. This is wonderful news for anybody who cares about children with disabilities. That’s because Lumos is dedicated to eradicating institutionalization of children throughout the world.

Most children who currently live without their families in institutions actually have parents but are not living with them because they are disabled or their families are too impoverished to care for them or both.

Israel is the last bastion of institutionalization of children with disabilities in the developed world with over 700 residents. Because of this country’s anachronistic approach to care of children with disabilities, we are in the same class as countries such as Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Moldova, Serbia, Ukraine and Haiti.

But with this one crucial distinction: in those countries Lumos is operating programmes that will direct them toward de-institutionalization. Israel, on the other hand, fosters institutions for its children with disabilities.

Just look at the sums of the grants that our government lavishes on its largest chain of institutions, Aleh.

The largest of Aleh’s four facilities is plonked square in the middle of the desert, isolated from the children’s families and from any community. This is about as remote as you can get from the current goal for people with disabilities everywhere: inclusion.

But thanks to Aleh’s concerted efforts to inundate potential donors and supporters, most of Israel’s public is utterly clueless as to the injustice and even illegality of Aleh’s existence.

It publishes high profile, mawkish verbiage that disguises the true nature of its operation. For instance, the isolation of Aleh Negev and its residents from family and community becomes:
ALEH Negev, a modern village — built with the money of Diaspora Jews — that gleams like a spaceship in the middle of the southern desert city of Ofakim.
Ofakim is sand-choked and barren, an expanse of flat, brown vistas spilling southward toward the Negev and east all the way to Beersheba. Driving down here in the heat of summer can feel like pulling up to an abandoned planet, a tough, impoverished place where hopes run as dry as the dirt around you. While the border with Gaza is practically within arm’s reach, not much else is.
And the fact that residents are cut off from their families becomes:
Rachma hasn’t seen her parents in several months, a fact that her caretakers at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a rehabilitative village for Israeli citizens with severe disabilities, say is sadly mundane... [Source]
With egregious disingenuousness, Aleh’s PR team churn out material that insinuates that the children there are incapable of living with their families or of achieving progress in a community based environment. So we read:
She can’t really walk or talk on her own, but she is alert, sitting up and offering a gurgle of incoherent conversation. Her hands, which curl in the trademark mangle of a child suffering from serious developmental disabilities, can these days wrap themselves around a spoon so she can feed herself. This is progress. [Source]
My daughter Chaya feeding
herself at home
My own daughter, Chaya, is equally impaired and has also learned to wrap her hand around a spoon so can feed herself. But her teacher was her mother who taught her in her own home. There was no need to lock her away in an institution for it to happen.

If the gargantuan sums of money pumped into the Aleh chain of institutions were diverted to help families care for their children in the warmth of a loving home – whether their own or adoptive – those children would benefit enormously and our society would be.

The lion's share of government funding in Israel goes to institutions, according to a major 2014 study by the Joint Distribution Committee [link]. Aleh, the largest institutional residence in Israel, alone receives $24 million annually. Meanwhile there is a serious shortage of services to people with disabilities who live within the community. (Aleh Negev was built at a cost of $42 million. No kidding.)
One last detail: Aleh boasts of a program it runs whereby prisoners are bussed from their cells straight to its desert branch to spend several hours one on one with residents. In order to “boost the staff ratio”, to quote Aleh, several times a week men who have not finished serving time for their crimes (whatever they may be) are permitted to be alone with the most vulnerable of our citizens.

And if they are totally risk-free, then I wonder why Aleh concedes that they are not permitted to work with minors or women.

As far as I can tell, there is no such program in existence anywhere else in the world (and I have searched long and hard). Hmmm. Could there be a good reason for that?

When I questioned the Ministry of Welfare, I received this reply (which I translated from Hebrew):
The ministry of welfare believes in the approach that contact and assistance to people with disabilities turns us into better people. This statement is applicable particularly to people who were convicted of crimes who have an opportunity to do something good. The ministry of welfare takes precautions in that anybody who will come in direct contact with the residents of the facility will not have the potential for harming them. This is what happens in "Aleh Negev" too. 
Hmmm. No mention of its impact on the residents.

I would love to hear your view of this program.

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