October 20, 2009

JDC Program Update: Tunisia

The latest news from our programs in Tunisia:

Welfare Programs

After a long search to fill an aching vacancy, the Jewish Community of Tunis was finally able to employ a very capable person to look after the needs of the elderly survivors. JDC then sent a professional social worker from Marseilles to Tunis for a training and supervision visit.

Most of the elderly Jews in Tunis are living alone without any educational background or conventional work experience (some have lived as professional beggars). Given their nearly total destitution on the one hand and rising living costs on the other, JDC and the Community strive to improve their modest living standards in any possible way. Thanks to two special donations, we were able in the past year to raise their monthly cash assistance by 20 percent and to finance certain improvements in their living conditions.

The Community renovated a number of apartments under its control and moved five people living in the most inadequate living conditions into clean and decent lodgings. For these and other elderly, JDC was also able to send specially designated funds to provide basic home facilities (gas, hot water, a shower space) wherever it was missing or in a state of disrepair.

In cooperation with the Community, JDC persuaded the Claims Conference to underwrite a second holiday food basket, adding a New Year gift to the one previously financed only for Passover. The Claims Conference similarly agreed to start funding homecare for these elderly.

The Jewish Old Age Home also benefited from a series of improvements. A new defibrillating machine donated by CASIM, the main Jewish social welfare organization of Marseilles, actually enabled the staff there to save a man's life. Once brought back to life, the man now tells everyone he meets about "the miracle.”

Jewish Education Programs
A key concern in Tunis is whether the Jewish high school pupils are mastering the French language. The issue is critical for two reasons. First, virtually all the children come from Arabic speaking homes, so French is a second language. Second, the pupils are tested according to the exams of the French government. The high school diploma they prepare for is the French baccalaureat.

For a number of years there were no high school classes at the Tunis Chabad School, so when the classes began to fill up it was an open question as to whether this new generation of students would succeed. Now the tension has been broken. The six pupils now in their junior year recently took the official French language exams and passed with flying colors. Four other youngsters at the junior high school level were also successful at their level, earning a coveted brevet.

Following the success of JDC’s cooperation with ORT in establishing a computer lab at the school, we are now planning the addition of a science laboratory and a “green garden” where pupils will cultivate and study fruits and vegetables associated with the Bible and Jewish holiday traditions.

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