Be aware, this is a proud blog entry! The persistent efforts we made since the beginning of 2009 to re-open the Silwan Well-Baby clinic was for us a symbol for our unique work approach in Jerusalem. And now, that these efforts were successful, we feel that it helps us make the case for our approach. During this period of time, we have seen more successful examples for our way, but still, the success with this clinic is for us a milestone.
And now – to the details.
When we began our first steps with the community leadership of Silwan in the beginning of 2009, the issue of the Well-Baby Clinic was central. This critical service had been closed at the end of 2008 and some 100,000 people (including 15,000 babies and toddlers aged 0 – 5) were left without any way to receive in their neighborhood immunizations, track the children’s growth or development, check up on parents’ functioning, etc. Israel is very proud of its well-baby clinic system, in which 97% of all babies in Israel aged 0 – 5 are served. In east Jerusalem, only one-third of all children get to the few Israeli government operated Well-Baby Clinics. Another third receives vaccinations at alternative institutions such as the Red Crescent, UNWRA, etc., and no one knows what happens to the remaining third. After the Well-Baby Clinic was closed in 2008, due to budgetary cutbacks and after a problematic implementation, the densely-populated area of Silwan was left without any type of preventative health service for young children – not public, not alternative – a difficult setback for the health and development of small children in the area. Some of the parents were taking the infants to clinics outside the neighborhood, but many did not…
Following this development, it was only natural that we come into the picture. We described our work model in east Jerusalem in a short article. It is based on the principle of finding paths to dialogue based on enabling both residents of east Jerusalem and the bodies responsible for the relevant services to achieve tangible results. The JICC is not an advocate of the residents, nor are we are a PR company for the institutions. Our assumption is that, in many cases, more than are usually obvious, all sides are interested in finding solutions, and different obstacles (cultural gaps, political/social tensions, etc.) prevent both sides from finding a solution. Our job is to bridge these gaps and overcome these obstacles.
At the beginning of 2009, we turned to the professionals in the Municipality, who are responsible for Well-Baby Clinics in the city, and they agreed immediately in principle that the Well-Baby Clinic should be re-introduced. At the same time they also pointed out a long list of difficulties: from funding, which is supposed to come from the Israel Ministry of Health; finding a suitable place in Silwan, one that is both the right size and in the right location, that does not infringe on any building codes, and whose owners are willing to rent to the Jerusalem Municipality (no small challenge); successful marketing the service, since poor marketing in which many of the residents were put off from using the service was one of the main reasons the old clinic had been closed. On the other hand, the Silwan Valley Leadership Committee, which we helped to establish and mentor, expressed much interest in helping the process move forward.
We were on the cusp of success in late 2009 as the Well-Baby Clinic was placed in the 2010 municipal budget, thanks to a process that included all the relevant professionals as well as politicians in the Municipality, and community professionals and institutions. Unfortunately, in the last few days of 2009, right before the 2010 budget was approved, it was taken out, to our grave disappointment. We described our disappointment here in this blog. This reaction rippled into an article in Ha’aretz newspaper, which is quoted in the blog entry from 2009.
Yet, as we noted even then, we continued to work toward the goal that was common to all partners. Throughout an entire year, we made sure that the process was progressing – the Municipality turned to the Ministry of Health, the residents strengthened the request with a letter of their own, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reminded the Municipality and the Ministry of Health of their legal obligations. As a result, budgets were retained from the Ministry of Health, and the residents and the Municipality set out to find a suitable location in the neighborhood. Such a place was found, all the legal and technical aspects were worked out, and last Thursday, on 10 March 2011 a lease was signed between the building owners and the Municipality, and today the process of adapting it to the needs of the Well-Baby Clinic has begun.
We are celebrating with our many partners on the lease signing. In addition to the leaders from East Jerusalemand the professionals at the municipality and the relevant NGOs, this success could not be achieved without the help of the Goldman Fund and the Jerusalem Foundation. Our work requires precise application of efforts made by our staff to facilitate these unique processes in the city of Jerusalem – and thanks to these funding organizations, we can do it well.
But we are of course not resting. We need to make sure that it won’t take a long time to ready the building for use, to hire professional staff, that the service starts on the right foot with successful marketing efforts augmented by the residents, and more. In parallel, we need to begin the process of opening an additional Well-Baby Clinic in northeast Jerusalem, which is also in desperate need. Fortunately, we are more familiar with the process and with our partners, who will be happy to help us in this endeavor.
And of course, the Silwan Valley Leadership Committee, that can celebrate its success on this issue, continues to work on many different and varied issues in which municipal and national services need to be improved – garbage removal, road improvement, planning and construction, and more. Despite the political question as to the future of Jerusalem, east Jerusalem residents must have adequate municipal services. The alternative is unthinkable