Social and Economic Justice

Growing Social Change

25 February 2014 By New Israel Fund

Say you have a group of ex-psychiatric patients who want to empower themselves and others to take responsibility for their own recovery. Say these people meet in an effort to dream, strategize, plan, and implement projects. They may be teachers, lawyers, or carpenters, but they're not professional organizers or facilitators. How does this group develop and articulate their vision? How do they translate that vision into a work plan? How do they find the funds to implement the plan? And what do they do when one person's compulsive tendencies clash with another's drive to fly with an inspiring idea?

The short answer? They turn to SHATIL.

In the case of LAMA, the Center for Recovery Skills, a one-of-a-kind center in Israel run by, and for, people coping with psychosocial disabilities, SHATIL consulting led to a sizeable government grant earlier this month. The funding allowed one center to create a unique zula (Hebrew slang for hangout).

In collaboration with a courtyard garden at Jerusalem's Nature Museum, also run and managed by people coping with psychosocial disabilities, LAMA will now establish a program that integrates its members with community gardeners and other groups that use the courtyard. Through learning and working together, people will have a chance to break down stereotypes, enjoy one another's company, and build community in a beautiful setting. So far projects have included a "Breakfast Club" using organic vegetables grown in a therapeutic garden, nature trips, photography, art workshops, and lectures on health.

"With great knowledge, warmth and openness, SHATIL taught us how to conduct ourselves organizationally. It opened our minds about how to work as a team," says Sima Levi, co-coordinator of LAMA.

"We're seeing a transition to advocacy from the real grassroots," says Hamutal Gouri, the SHATIL consultant who worked intensively with LAMA for the past three years on team building, leadership development, interpersonal and mediation skills, project development, and work plans as well as fundraising. "This is about building their capacity and also about creating the climate for people to organize and advocate for themselves. We're seeing more and more of this new kind of leadership."

The government funds are critical, but so is the recognition and acknowledgment of the expertise of people coping with psychosocial disabilities in the management and recovery of their own illnesses and of teaching these skills to others – in short as agents of meaningful change.

"Slowly this community is developing internally; is breathing and gaining strength for building a better life and is gaining recognition from the authorities," said Patrick Levi, an independent consultant who works with mental health groups. "As with much consulting work, the fruits of the labor come only with time."