Mental health and psychosocial support, once taboo topics, have been increasingly discussed in countries around the world in recent years. Anxiety and stress alleviation have emerged at the forefront of societal needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For decades before this, however, Israelis were developing techniques to treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as openly discussing the topic. This was necessary due to the continual terror threat Israel faces and the undeniable distress this puts on its populace. 

Seventy-two years after the country’s founding, and with the help of such therapeutic knowledge, Israelis are known worldwide for their resilience and mental strength. As much of the world’s population faces a pervasive threat unlike ever before in the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel is sharing its mental health expertise and therapy mechanisms with the world. 

IsraAID, a global humanitarian non-profit organization created and centered in Israel, has developed a new website aimed at providing stress alleviation during the pandemic. The new website, provides interactive guides for various activities intended to reduce stress and anxiety.

The website includes guides for healthy news and information consumption, breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, and much more. All of the resources are free for anyone, anywhere to use.  

“As an Israeli staff team, we’re able to come in with empathy,” stated Rachel Wallace during a May 14th webinar with the organization StandWithUs, while highlighting IsraAID’s distinctive mental health expertise. Rachel serves as IsraAID’s U.S. Director of Outreach and Engagement. 

Beyond this resource, IsraAID has also been providing mental health services to frontline healthcare workers in countries such as China, Italy, and South Korea.

The organization currently has active humanitarian projects in fifteen countries, including the United States, and has served in a total of fifty-two countries since its founding in 2001. 

IsraAID also provides mental health services in various countries where the organization has long-term projects, serving mostly Middle Eastern refugee communities in countries such as Greece and Germany, among others.

In Germany, IsraAID staff noticed a unique gap in mental health and psychological services for refugees at the height of the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Europe in 2015. In early 2016, the organization began offering psychological support and training to refugees and staff, an operation which continues to this day. 

Since Israel has such a diverse population, IsraAID is able to deploy staff who have similar cultural backgrounds and speak common languages with the people they are assisting on the ground. 

IsraAID has begun focusing on long-term deployments in recent years, and the organization has even coined the term “FILO,” which means “First in, Last Out.”

Another goal of IsraAID staffers is to “Help the helpers and train the trainers,” according to Wallace. The organization focuses on providing adequate resources for community leaders, so those leaders can then pass knowledge on to other local citizens, as IsraAID is dedicated to creating sustainable partnerships with locals on the ground.

Deploying their staff to numerous U.S. states in the wake of natural disasters, IsraAID was the first humanitarian organization to reach Puerto Rico after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Today, IsraAID is particularly focused on food security issues in the United States, as many U.S. metropolises have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re providing food and other supplies to families in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, New Jersey, and will soon begin operations in New York, according to Wallace. 

This is not the only new operation the organization has created in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. IsraAID has also begun operations in Israel for the very first time, providing food and supplies to mainly immigrant communities in South Tel Aviv.

In addition, the humanitarian organization has worked to translate World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 informational materials into various languages, including Farsi and Arabic at its project sites in Greece.

IsraAID is unique in the international development community for many reasons, one being that it is a non-profit organization and not directly funded by the Israeli government. This contrasts with the United States Agency for International Development, for example, which is a federal government agency.

IsraAID receives its funding from a combination of sources, including private and individual donations and even foreign governments, such as Germany and Japan. 

“We are driven by the values of our nation and our people,” stated Wallace. As such, and while deploying Israel’s decades-long, uniquely-developed psychosocial services, IsraAID has been able to address issues that other humanitarian organizations may not be equipped to, such as the mental health crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the world prepares to adapt to its new normal and increasingly recognizes the importance of mental health in the lives of individuals and societies, Israelis and their distinctive psychological resilience can provide a model for the rest of the world. 

IsraAID is actively searching for volunteers within the United States. Anybody who wishes to volunteer with IsraAID in the U.S. can find more information HERE.

 

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