Feature Story: For 3,000 Disabled, Center for Independent Living in Beersheva Turning ‘Disadvantage into an Advantage’

BEERSHEVA, ISRAEL, March 29, 6 p.m.– Having polio as a child didn’t stop Dahlia from dreaming. 

“I once had a dream to create a home and underneath its wings we would unite all people with disabilities,” she said.  

Thanks in great part to Dahlia’s extraordinary determination and drive, the dream is coming true at the JDC’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Beersheva, Israel, which has grown to serve more than 3,000 individuals with disabilities – “my 3,000 children,” as she calls them – in what is the first program of its kind in southern Israel. 

What started out in a small building has grown into three distinct facilities, each of which symbolizes one of the world’s major religions, according to Dahlia – the main welcoming center (Judaism); an expansive Bedouin tent (Islam) that serves as a restaurant, social hall and coffee shop; and beautiful European gardens (Christianity).  Revenues from the café help support the services offered. 

The CIL services a large geographic area, providing an emergency hotline, medical equipment repair, peer counseling on legal rights, housing and employment database, social activities, self-help groups, legal aid and seminars.   

Dhalia has worked closely with many of the center’s clients, most specifically with women with an interest in providing salon and personal services. She has helped many to the point where they now own their own businesses. 

Of the 1.5 million disabled inIsrael, nearly 700,000 are adults between 20 and 64.  Their disabilities have repercussions that affect all aspects of their life.  For example, only 30 percent of people with severe disabilities and 54 percent of people with moderate disabilities are employed (compared to 71 percent of the general population). This underemployment leads to widespread poverty among Israelis with disabilities. In addition, physical impairments which make exercise difficult increase the incidence of chronic illness – such as heart disease and hypertension. 

In Beersheva, Dahlia and company are making a serious dent in the number of those who desperately need services. 

Said one JDC representative involved with the program, which is managed and operated by the very people it services: “We’re turning a disadvantage into an advantage.”

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