Since its establishment in 1982, the Social Development Committee has been working with the Arab community in Haifa, influential institutions, and activists to bring about a fundamental shift towards an active Arab civil society. We achieve this by providing them with the proper tools, knowledge and awareness that enables them to demand their civil rights and raise their voices loudly to achieve equality.
The SDC studies each step professionally before undertaking any project or activity by adopting proven methods and strategies. The SDC also seeks to distinguish itself in ensuring only the highest quality standards in what it offers to benefit our Arab society in general, and the Arab community in Haifa in particular.
Since its establishment, the SDC has consistently centered the principle of diversity in its work and programs. It believes that diversity in opinions and involved parties is necessary in building a cohesive and mutually supportive society that embraces all its people.
The SDC believes in innovation, transformation, and the inherent capabilities of each member in society. It believes that building on these ideas will lead to greater social solidarity, collective action, and the empowerment of new leaders, all to contribute to the creation of an improved social fabric.
Forty years, four core programs, and a distinct societal impact through an innovative approach
The Social Development Committee has focused on four programs aimed at activating Haifa’s Arab community and transforming its members into initiators capable of uplifting and changing it.
The main objective of this project is to equip Arab civil groups in Haifa with the means to claim their rights from the municipal authorities in specific areas such as civic planning, education, and distributive justice. Through several periodic meetings, the SDC has provided necessary mechanisms to the community which have enabled them to influence and change their current situation, especially within the education sector and city planning.
The main goal of this work is to improve the social and living environment of the Arab population in Haifa, and to ensure that the Haifa municipality and all its institutions work more transparently with a responsibility to all Haifa residents. We work to achieve this through written demands, advocacy, follow-up, dialogue and demand for accountability.
Among the most prominent achievements of the SDC within this program is the issuing of a “List of Demands for Public Participation in Planning in Wadi Nisnas Neighborhood” in December 2020, prepared by Fadi Eyadat and architect Haya Zaatreh.
The document discussed the demographic, social, and economic situation of the neighborhood, in addition to addressing the problems and challenges facing the neighborhood and its residents.
Furthermore, the document raised a number of crucial demands related to the neighborhood planning process. It indicated the need to build trust, transparency, cooperation, facilitate easier access to information, establish a steering committee, and add a social impact assessment to the new planning process of the neighborhood.
This document was a significant step towards a new and responsible approach, and served as the basis of a meeting with residents and public officials that took place in February 2021, headed by architect Haya Zaatra. This meeting provided important information about what the suggested planning and its possible implications to residents and interested parties.
The meeting also included a virtual tour of the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood presented by Dr. Johnny Mansour, who also touched on the importance of the neighborhood’s heritage and history.
In addition, SDC held another public meeting in March 2021, in the heart of Wadi Nisnas, with residents and activists. The goal of this meeting was to explain the proposed plan and guide residents to the official municipal website of Tuvanot (תובנות) to comment their opinions and demands.
The Social Development Committee submitted a position paper regarding the urban renewal plan for the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood in April 2021.
The SDC highlighted the importance of developing a plan for the renewal of the ancient and historical neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas. It emphasized that the matter should be implemented thoughtfully, considering the situation of the Arab population, particularly residents of Wadi Nisnas, and ensuring their participation in the decision-making process.
In July 2021, the work of the Social Development Committee culminated in the first accountability conference of its kind, representing a significant leap forward. The conference was attended by a wide variety of activists and stakeholders from across Haifa who had the opportunity to voice their questions and concerns regarding the rights of Arab citizens to the mayor.
The accountability conference was broadcast live on several websites, platforms, and social media pages, including “Al-Mina,” the SDC-managed Facebook group promoting free speech.
The conference was inaugurated with a speech from the head of the Social Development Committee’s administration, engineer, and lecturer Hisham Abdo, who spoke about the founding and current activities of the organization.
Lawyer Jumana Ighbaria-Hamam, the director of SDC, focused her speech on the importance of criticism and accountability, as well as their implications, entitlements, and vitality for society, specifically Arab society. Furthermore, she noted the need to transform the accountability conference into an annual tradition in Haifa, in service of its Arab residents.
The conference included an hour of Q&A and an interview with the Mayor of Haifa, Dr. Einat Kalish-Rotem. The interview was conducted by media personality Wadih Awawdeh, who questioned the mayor on a number of subjects. These included Haifa’s current reality versus the desired reality, the municipality’s promises to correct injustices in various aspects of life, and the loss of a comprehensive vision and plan that covers the needs of Arab citizens in infrastructure, education, the right to shelter, participation in the early stages of planning processes, municipal services, cultural and sports facilities and many more.
The mayor of Haifa acknowledged the blatant and accumulated decades-old failure by the municipality to deal with the rights and needs of the Arab population in Haifa, who today number about 35,000. Participants from Haifa’s Arab community had the opportunity to question the mayor about these issues, hear grievances and complaints, and demand immediate justice.
Before the end of the conference, engineers Orna Mor (Director of the Urban Renewal Department in the Haifa Municipality) and Marina Dorfman (Architect working in the Engineering Department) were questioned about many issues, including the absence of Arab women in the municipality’s engineering department.
In addition to the lack of a comprehensive, schematic vision of the needs, identity, and language of the Arab community, the issues of the basic right to shelter and the scarcity of apartments were discussed.
Orna Mor admitted that some of the municipality’s projects were unsuccessful and incomplete, and that they involved Arab citizens only on paper. The projects presented by the municipality were presented only in Hebrew and without consideration of the Arab community’s needs, as in the case of the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood plan. Participants in the conference said that they are waiting for action, not words — real action that ensures the wants and needs of Haifa’s Arab citizens are taken into consideration.
There is no doubt that the accountability conference changed the Haifa municipality’s approach, specifically regarding Haifa’s Arab education system and the urban planning of the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, as well as other Arab neighborhoods.
The SDC strives to improve the education system through comprehensive plans and programs.
This endeavor has resulted in the presentation of a professional document that includes the needs and problems that the Arab education system is facing in the city, and an updated developmental vision that is compatible with modern changes.
The main objective of this project is to provide knowledge and life skills to school students in Haifa and motivate them to initiate change. This is done by providing them with non-traditional learning tools and experiences that are up-to-date and suitable for their modern lifestyle.
Arab students in Haifa between the ages of 10 and 14 (students in the primary and preparatory stages) learned new life skills, including engagement in creativity, critical thinking, and active participation skills through our workshops. This program equips the rising generation of school students in Haifa with the ability and means to express their voices and have an influence on society.
Among the successful youth initiatives that took place during the months of May and June 2021, we would like to mention the following:
The “No to Bullying” initiative to raise awareness of the negative impact of cyberbullying – St. John the Evangelist School (Seventh grade A).
The “Weapon” initiative to raise awareness of the dangers and consequences of weapons – St. John the Evangelist School (Seventh grade B).
The “Clean Beaches” initiative to raise awareness of the damage caused by beach pollution and its impact on aquatic life – Carma Primary School (Eighth grade A).
The “Bullying” initiative to raise awareness of the harm caused by face-to-face bullying – Carma Primary School (Eighth grade B).
These initiatives have benefited the students by enriching their educational experience, increasing their awareness and knowledge, motivating them to exchange ideas and opinions, and engaging them in social action from a young age.
Because of the initiatives’ success and positive feedback, the SDC will work during the current school year (2021/2022) with 12 classes from 5 different Haifa schools: St. John’s School, Carma Primary School, Hewar School, Ort Technological High School, Carmel School, and the Arab Orthodox College.
In May 2022, the project will culminate in a meeting that brings together the participants to present the classroom initiatives and make their voices heard.
Before embarking on any initiative or project, the Social Development Committee conducts an inventory, a professional study, and a survey to keep up with developments and identify new requirements. SDC’s work is based primarily on cumulative actions, reflection and a strategic future vision.
The SDC also believes in the capabilities of the youth and strives to empower them — igniting in them the spark of social solidarity and the flame of hope for a better future in which they will be influential.
The SDC believes in the importance of equipping the youth with relevant skills thoughtfully designed programs, aiming to form a generation that contributes to their communities in a positive and effective way.
The Social Development Committee held a festive evening event for Haifa school students last June, in celebration of poetry and public speaking. The celebration took place in the hall of the Arab Orthodox College in cooperation with its partners in the Rotary Club, Stella Maris – Haifa.
The event was attended by students, the orators, the Rotary Club, administrative and educational staff from the participating schools, students’ parents, and relatives and colleagues.
This project and the “Art of Public Speaking” competition aim to strengthen the Arabic language, raise its status, preserve it and prevent the obliteration of our national identity.
Six schools participated in this project: Ort Technological High School, St. Elias Episcopal School, Carmel , Kababir Ahmadiyya School, Hewar School, and the Arab Orthodox College.
After students gave their speeches on various prearranged topics, they were honored with trophies and certificates of appreciation for their participation in the project. The administrations and teaching staff of participating schools were also honored at the event.
On International Arabic Language Day, the Social Development Committee initiated an educational program that consisted of a variety of activities and events aimed at celebrating the Arabic language in 14 Arab schools in Haifa.
The program began with the distribution of three packages from the series of books “Our Villages Remain in Us” (issued by the “Al-Tofoula” Center) to Haifa primary schools, not only to enrich their libraries but also to be used as an educational tool that contributes to strengthening our identity and belonging.
The activities and events took place across two days (December 16th and 17th) and included lectures for parents and educators via the Zoom video-conferencing platform, in cooperation with the “Lantern Library.” Lectures were presented by Mona Srouji, with one entitled “Why and how do we read books to and with our children”, and another entitled “Preserving the vitality of the Arabic language.”
Other parts of the program included interactive workshops on drama and theater as well as learning through play, “story hour” with a storyteller and mural drawing.
Society will not come together and advance without preserving its social fabric. Therefore, the Social Development Committee has set its sights on restoring and preserving the social fabric of Haifa’s Arab community.
This project aims to restore Haifa’s social fabric by bringing together vulnerable groups and involving them in the process of change. The SDC hopes that the Arab community in Haifa will be aware and responsible enough to embrace each other and communicate through different means and initiatives.
The Social Development Committee initiated the creation of a website called “Al-Mina.” This website aims to provide valuable information to motivate and enable Arab citizens to take an active role in social activities and provide them a platform to express themselves without shame or hesitation.
This virtual space that the SDC initiated and opened to the public has truly become an outlet for all. It serves as an objective and neutral digital space that opens the door for all societal groups to discuss, engage and interact with one another.
The SDC has remained impartial on the website and ensures that everyone has an equal voice on the platform.
Social media platforms have had a large effect on society. Now, everyone can have a voice and share their opinions, regardless of whether they are a part of the government or a civilian with an opinion to share — everyone now has an equal voice through social media.
The voices and opinions of Arab citizens have historically been left unheard. Now, Al-Mina provides Arab residents of Haifa a platform to share and express their opinions, serving as an influential space in which citizens organize and create movements.
During the past year, the Social Development Committee assisted in a community solidarity project in cooperation with the “Tofoula” (Childhood) center.
The SDC provided guidance on the role of youth and students, community projects, and the use of modern media in building and implementing a social initiative.
This project culminated in March 2022 with a youth initiative in Saint Luke’s Church for preschool and first grade students. The event included dividing the children into several groups and engaging them in activities like storytelling, reading through the book series “Our Villages Remain in Us” about abandoned villages, handicrafts, and recreational activities.
17 young men and women in grades 10-12 in Haifa secondary schools (Arab Orthodox College, Sisters of Nazareth School, and Carma School) participated in this project after attending 10 training workshops on how to activate groups and the importance of contributing to society — an intensive process designed to equip them with the necessary tools for succeeding in the project.
One of the important issues that the SDC worked on this past year was to confront the unfair policies and neglect against the “Al-Anwar” center.
The SDC, with the help of volunteers, worked to prevent the municipality from closing the center.
The Al-Anwar center helps Arab girls who dropped out of school between the ages of 13 and 18, and prepares them to successfully re-engage in Haifa’s educational system.
The SDC initiated meetings with officials and representatives in the Education Department and the Social Welfare Department of the municipality, which led to the issue of the center’s closing come to the mayor’s attention.
The municipality bears the responsibility to provide frameworks for the youth in Haifa, and yet these frameworks are what our local Arab community lacks. Instead of closing a vital center such as Al-Anwar, the municipality should focus on providing cultural, educational, and social frameworks.
In March 2021 as part of the “inspirational” project and the green imprint project, the Social Development Committee honored three inspiring women: Mona Odeh, Houria Ibrahim, and Omaima Jashi, with a painting created by the planner and educator Camille Daou.
Each of the honorees, in turn, contributed to the Haifa community and left a green imprint.
The Social Development Committee adopted the idea of celebrating teachers more than ten years ago, through the annual “Teacher’s Day” celebration. This day recognizes the grace and generosity of our teachers in Haifa’s various schools, and their role in educating the younger generations.
The SDC circulated video congratulations from social activists to teachers through social media, followed by a special message to the administrations of Haifa schools in appreciation of their efforts.
This prompted students to record creative messages and greetings for their teachers, many of which were collected and posted to the SDC’s social media pages.
The SDC also distributed a meaningful gift to all schoolteachers, alongside an enclosed congratulatory letter.
This program aims to continuously strengthen the foundations of the SDC financially, professionally, and in its principles, so that it can achieve its desired results and build on its historical position and renewed developmental role in Haifa.
Focusing on organizational development and sustaining the cultural and principled heritage that characterizes the SDC will improve its effectiveness in making its desired impact.
The SDC seeks to establish modern processes to consolidate its relationships with beneficiaries. It also aims to review and update the decision-making process, hold periodic staff meetings, improve communication tools and procedures, and develop a periodic performance appraisal system.
The Social Development Committee submitted an application to be recognized as a public institution under Clause 46a. After the tax authority examined and verified SDC’s organizational standards, its application was approved.
This ratification grants stakeholders and shops donating to the SDC the ability to obtain tax exemptions on 35% of the amount donated. This is an important achievement for the SDC and its financial management. It greatly improves the consolidation of resources and conditions of donation to the SDC in order to achieve its important societal goals. This ratification comes four decades after the organization’s establishment, and will be greatly beneficial in expanding SDC’s support opportunities, especially considering the current global circumstances.
The Social Development Committee seeks permanent renewal, as its professional staff works to keep pace with the developments of Arab society while strengthening and educating the community, all in a steady pace towards a brighter future.
The SDC also took the initiative to establish and activate the “Community Solidarity Fund” in honor of the founder of the Social Development Committee, the late Hussein Ighbariya.
Preparations will be made to celebrate the founding of the SDC at the beginning of this fall (September-October), to extinguish the candle of its fourth decade, and light candles of hope for Haifa’s Arab community at the beginning of its fifth decade.
Every educational, recreational, and government institution in Haifa knows the impact of the Social Development Committee on various aspects of society. Change will not come if we do not work towards it, and so the SDC continues to work — as it has in the past forty years — to create a developed, effective and influential local Arab society.