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A Life Turned Around

Sometimes all it takes to ruin a life is meeting the wrong person at the wrong time. Alice knows this well, and it has taken her twenty years of heartache, frustration and finally the intervention of ESRA, for her to begin to recover. This is her story, told to me by Rutie Kamon, who met Alice through her role as a retired social worker who volunteers with the ESRA Welfare Committee. Rutie has come to care for this client as a friend. She talks of her with a warmth and affection that were evident as we pored over snaps of the attractive blonde woman smiling into the camera. I heard about the terrible conditions in which she had lived until ESRA came into her life, and I learned how easy it is to slip through the cracks into a world that would be unimaginable to most of us.

Alice grew up in Or Yehuda, the oldest in a family of seven siblings. Life in a deprived area in a home where money was always short, wasn't easy, and when, aged 18, she met a man who seemed to offer an escape, she married him and started anew in an apartment in Or Yehuda.

Alice gave birth to two children, but her life was already starting to disintegrate. Her husband's drug habit eventually led her onto the same downward path. At the ages of six and seven their children were removed from the family home by social services and adopted by other families which could give them the security and stability they lacked. Unable to cope with the trauma of losing his children, her husband committed suicide and she was left alone with the remnants of her life.

Soon she was living in stairwells and behind dumpsters. For twenty years she existed as a vagrant and prostitute with little future and no hope until a representative of the Al Sam drug rehabilitation organization persuaded her to join one of their programs and she started attending their center in Jaffa. Although she didn't realize it, she had taken the first tentative steps towards a different future.

A life like Alice's is not easy to turn around, and she failed several times, leaving the center and returning to her old life on the streets. When she was given a last chance, a place in a dormitory which offered shelter and sanctuary but only on condition that she follow the strict rules laid down for those who lived there, did she grasp this final opportunity to make something of her life and set her feet firmly on the path to recovery.

Eventually Alice was ready to leave the dormitory and return to her old home. Closed up and neglected for twenty years, the flat had been vandalized and had fallen into total disrepair. The windows had been smashed and lopsided, gap-toothed blinds were all that protected her from the winter wind and rain, the sand of a storm blowing in from the desert, and the heat of the summer sun. Food was prepared in an area which was clearly a health hazard. A chipped sink rested precariously on flimsy cabinets. Grease-laden wall tiles and broken floor tiles were impossible to keep clean. Storage was minimal. Many would have despaired at such living conditions, but Alice was determined not to slip back into the pattern of her old life. And then everything turned around when Rutie Kamon was contacted by a colleague in Jaffa, and ESRA came into the picture.

This was an unusual case for ESRA. Most people who turn to them are given a one-time grant of a sum which sounds modest, but is generally enough to help them out of their immediate difficulties. Alice needed more help, and the money available was not enough. But Rutie and ESRA felt that hers was such a special case that an extra effort had to be made. By chance a friend of ESRA was told the story and volunteered to fund the installation of glass in the windows of her home. Then another ESRA volunteer, on seeing the photos of her kitchen, offered to finance its renovation. Even the local craftsmen involved were persuaded to support the efforts being made to help Alice, and agreed to supply the materials and their labor on trust and receive payment only upon completion of the work.

Today Alice has been off drugs for three years and is tested weekly to make sure she stays drug-free. She lives in a home which is clean and secure. Her gratitude to ESRA is enormous. She knows that it was their intervention that turned her life from despair to hope.

This is a story of success and optimism in which ESRA has played a pivotal role and can take the greatest pride. 



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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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