From the Lecture Hall to the Streets of Tel Aviv
Esti Feigenbaum, an applied anthropology student, ran educational programs at a preschool for the children of migrants. Arik Olshanezky, who studies electrical engineering and computer science, taught programming skills at a high school in a low-income neighborhood of south Tel Aviv.
Esti and Arik were not volunteering; their work on these off-campus sites is part of TAU Impact, a new framework for social activism at the University. It allows TAU, Israel’s largest university, to harness its resources and know-how toward generating tangible social benefits. The first program of its kind in Israel and possibly the world, TAU Impact offers all undergraduate students accredited courses that integrate cutting-edge knowledge in a specific field with corresponding community engagement projects. Community work is carried out with local schools, NGOs and government agencies.
Esti worked in the preschool, located in south Tel Aviv, as part of a course called “Ethnography of Immigration and Journeys in Africa.” Along with other TAU Impact students, she led activities for the children and their parents after school hours: building and planting a hydroponic garden on the nursery’s roof as well as running story-time and others activities on topics relating to nature and agriculture. Esti also organized food workshops for parents and plans to produce a cookbook based on recipes shared in the groups. The idea for these activities arose when the children and their older siblings complained that they didn’t want to go home after preschool; many of them live in crowded, dilapidated apartments, and their parents work long hours to make ends meet, Esti explains.
A TAU student works in the hydroponic garden with a preschool child. Credit: Esti Feigenbaum
By planting vegetables, watching them grow and then eating them, children learn valuable lessons about the environment and sustainable food supplies, particularly bringing “food sources closer to the plate,” says Yael Shemer, the course’s moderator. Once a week, the children eat a salad prepared from vegetables picked from the roof garden.
Shemer, a master’s student at TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Sciences, sees the garden as a tool that connects different communities. It has created a “safe meeting place for Israelis and migrants – devoid of preconceived notions.”
Not far from there, Arik tutored pupils at a religious boys’ high school. The pupils, many of whom come from troubled backgrounds and whose families can’t afford to buy them computers, learned to program computer games, a process which Arik says was very empowering for them.
“Many of them don’t have anyone in their direct families who have attended university,” explains Arik. “They see us as role models. The project motivates these kids to make a better future for themselves.”
Esti and Arik are just two examples of the hundreds of TAU students who are engaging in social impact courses every year. They are mentoring youth-at-risk, helping the elderly realize their rights, advancing equality in education for minorities and initiating environmental projects, among other initiatives. Some 15,000 Israeli children, youth, adults and senior citizens benefit from TAU Impact projects annually; this number is expected to reach over 50,000 in the coming years.
Believing so much in the value of TAU Impact, TAU is making the program mandatory for all undergraduate students. "Our initiative instills a culture of social engagement across campus and cultivates a sense of civic responsibility among our students. It encourages them to use their skills for the benefit of society, not only now but also after they graduate, and to become catalysts of positive social change in Israel," says TAU Dean of Students Prof. Tova Most.