The Hagar and Miriam program is an innovative support center for pregnant women and new mothers from the asylum seeking and refugee community in Israel. This innovative program was initiated in 2007 to aid and support asylum-seeking women in Israel by providing care during and after pregnancy. The program aims to provide women with greater control over their futures and lives, and to help them advance from a state of dependence to interdependence.
Since 2000, refugees from Africa have been seeking asylum in Israel. According to the Ministry of Interior statistics, there are approx 54,000 asylum seekers in Israel today (June 2013). The asylum seekers come from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and other countries. Nearly 15% of this population consists of women, mainly between the ages of 15-35. Many are single women on their own, others are pregnant, and some become pregnant while in Israel. On their way to Israel, these women are exposed to exploitation and abuse by the smugglers. Once they arrive in Israel, they have no official nationality or status. They suffer culture shock and lack of communication, as they do not speak Hebrew, and encounter many problems in adjusting to the Israeli culture. In addition, they are not eligible to receive Israel’s national health insurance and welfare benefits, and most of them are unable to pay for private health insurance. Moreover, due to the separation from their family and community support systems, these women have to cope with all these problems on their own. Each year, approximately 500 babies are born to asylum seeking women in Israel. These obstacles are greater during pregnancy, after birth, and during early child-raising.
Hagar and Miriam guides, counsels and supports the women and their families during pregnancy, birth and after-birth. The program also advances sexual health awareness in a community counseling center. The program is based on volunteer work of Israeli and immigrant/ visiting women from many countries. Volunteers include gynecologists, nurses, midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants, nursing students, social workers, professionals in the fields of education and high-tech, volunteers from Jewish Agency projects such as Otzma, Career Israel and others.
Program activities include accompanying the women to prenatal examinations and follow-up check ups, accompanying women in labor to and in the delivery room or birthing clinic by aid of midwives and doulas. After childbirth the program supplies breastfeeding counseling, assistance in hospital discharge, follow-up home visits, escort to post-partum health providers such as well-baby clinic, the ministry of interior and more.
The program also escorts women and their babies in case of special medical problems such as HIV-positive carriers, handicap etc. and provides family planning and pregnancy termination counseling. The program carries out campaigns on contraception and sexually transmitted diseases by disseminating explanatory brochures issues such as childhood diseases, child development, contraception, etc.
In addition, the program provides women with Hebrew and English lessons and organizes support groups for women coping with cultural adjustment issues in Israel.
Staff and Partnerships:
Hagar and Miriam program works within the framework of the Topaz and in partnership with Brit Olam. The program was initiated by Avital Banai, who manages the program, with the help of the program’s medical coordinators, nurse-midwife Debbie Herdan and Dr. Susan Warcheizer.
The program works in cooperation with a wide variety of organizations and medical institutions including: Ichilov-Lis Hospital, Wolfson Hospital, Tel Hashomer-Sheba Hospital, Assaf Harofe Hospital, Meuchedet Health Fund, Physicians for Human Rights, Levinsky Clinic, The Refugee Clinic, Rosenblatt Laboratory, Tipat Halav Mother-Baby Clinics, Dina Nursing School, and the International Medical School of Ben Gurion University, Participating community institutions also include: UNHCR, Tel Aviv Municipality, Mesila, Bina Secular Yeshiva, La Leche League, Shades of the Community, Refugee Shelters (ARDC), The Kibbutz Movement, Achoti, The Hotline For Migrant Workers, Lasova, Israel House of Prayer, Light of the Carmel, Joint, Young Judea, The Jewish Agency of Israel, The Door Of Hope, and others.
* Photos courtesy of Alex Livak