Rabab Kabaha, from the village of Barta’a is 39 years old, married and the mother of 4 daughters. She is a professional caregiver. Rabab worked for five years as the house mother of the seniors’ club in Barta’a on a part-time basis. Her husband is a factory worker, and she was looking for a way to improve their financial situation. Former work experiences she had yielded a very small salary.
How did you encounter MAAN?
“Shortly after I found a job at the seniors’ club, I saw MAAN’s online ad about a course for caretakers at Hillel Yaffe Hospital. I visited the office and met you. You interviewed me and accepted me to the course, which I successfully completed in October 2017. I did not miss a single session. The course was of a high standard and I received a caretaking certificate, which filled me with pride. I hoped that the course would open doors for me.
“When you offered me an additional half-time job at a nursing home in Hadera, I was afraid that no one would want to accept me part-time, but you came with me and convinced the manager. I started working there in 2018. They placed me in a nursing ward, which requires a lot of physical and emotional effort, but I jumped at the chance for this job.”
The job is far from home, you have to speak Hebrew and take responsibility for nursing people? How did you cope?
“I had to reorganize my life with myself and my family, who supported me the whole way. Your support, your phone calls to ask me how I am coping, meetings we had at the office all gave me a lot of strength. I met many women who gave up caretaking within a few months and left. The other workers at the institution are Ethiopian, Arab, Russian and Israeli, each with a different cultural background and different language, it wasn’t easy. For example, when a group spoke their language, the rest felt they were being gossiped about, and this caused tensions. I managed well with Hebrew, but I could not speak Russian with the Russian women, and I really wanted to build relationships with them. After a while, the management called a meeting and informed us that the language spoken in the premises would be only Hebrew, and so it was. They also organized joint trips for us, which brought us closer to each other. Yet to make contact with the Russians, I learned all the concepts relevant to nursing work in Russian and I was able to communicate with them and with the residents who speak Russian. In the nursing home, they mainly demanded from us a humane attitude and a lot of patience for the residents. I discovered in myself compassion and humanity for people regardless of their origin, and in the end discovered that it helps me to respect myself as well. The families also respected me very much and thanked me.”
Why do you think more Arab women don’t work in caretaking?
“There are three main reasons for this. The first is the unaddressed problem of transportation from the village to the city. I came to work in a private car, quite old but functional, which allowed me to get there without depending on public transport. Nursing home managements claim they do not have enough budget to finance transportation, nor do they have a budget for employees’ car expenses, and they only pay a monthly bus ticket. So most of the car expenses fall on the car owners. On the other hand, bus times from Arab villages do not correspond to the shift schedule at work, especially the evening shifts. That’s why nursing homes prefer women with cars, because it allows them to arrive on time and to work the evening shifts, where they earn more. I usually took the evening shifts until 23:00 pm, while buses to the village stop at 22:00 pm.”
“In addition, the work is very difficult, both physically and emotionally. You need people who are both professional and have humane relationships and respect for people. The course greatly helped me to become a professional. I will give you an example, someone who does not know how to turn patients to prevent pressure sores or lift them into wheelchair will easily injure her back and then leave the job.
“As a rule we are only paid minimum wage, a fact that does not correspond at all to the requirements and difficulties. I was paid a little more due to the pressure MAAN exerted on the nursing home thanks to the course I took, and I receive 32 shekels an hour instead of 29. But today women know that it is possible to work in cleaning or as a cashier, the work is less difficult and you can earn more. If the government and employers supported this industry and gave a decent wage, thousands of Arab women could work in it.”
How did the coronavirus impact work?
“It was very difficult, we had to wear professional masks and special gowns all day, like in hospitals. I myself have asthma, and could have gone out on paid leave, but when I saw how nurses and doctors work in the hospitals despite COVID, I decided that I could too. In the first wave, they demanded that we not go to any events and not get too close to people – they were afraid we would infect the patients. I was very careful, I hardly left the house except for work, and indeed only one person got COVID in the nursing home. Some of the women from Jisr al-Zarqa who also participated in the course stayed at home and took paid leave because the disease spread in the village.”
Do you remember a particular difficult moment at work?
“I have one difficult memory, but it ended well. I was in a meeting with other workers, and suddenly we heard a nurse shout that a patient was choking. We ran there, and since I went through a paramedic course I knew what to do. They really appreciated me for that, and held a special meeting where they gave me a certificate of appreciation.
How do your daughters see your work, and would you want them to also enter the caretaking field?
“The four girls are very proud of me, they love volunteering and helping people. I hope they will get involved in caretaking. My oldest daughter, who is 18, wants to enter the field of nursing, because she sees it as a very humane field. She has a lot of patience, she knows that nursing is a profession with a future. My second daughter, 17 years old, wants to volunteer in the field of firefighting, hopes that she will be accepted and continue training.”
Do you have a message for duty bearers and policy makers?
“Our employers appreciate us very much. But as for duty bearers and policy makers, I don’t feel that we are appreciated enough by them. The minimum wage we are paid does not match the nature of our work, our travel is not subsidized and there are not enough professional training courses. Therefore, some of the employees are unprofessional, which damages them as well as the elderly. I would like them to hire professional staff and reward us according to our seriousness and professionalism, so that we can give the patients the most professional and humane treatment.”