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Mara Schwartz ORT Keshernet Centers

The Mara Schwartz ORT-KesherNet Computer Centers remain a powerhouse program providing a basic computer literacy curriculum including Microsoft Word, Excel and use of the Internet. Following graduation, many women continue their education with more advanced courses including design software (Photoshop and Carel Draw), engineering software (AutoCad and 3ds Max), accounting software (lc Bugalteria and lc Predprivatie), as well as creating computer presentations and website design. With the severe economic downturn in the entire region, these centers have become ever more vital by providing basic and advanced computer skills, economic and legal literacy training, and a home for PK women’s groups, social activism training and activities, and for the Jewish community as a whole. A wide range of participants benefit from the centers ranging in age from school children to seniors.  

Since Project Kesher and World ORT established our partnership in 2002, we have trained more than 60,000 students, 83% women. In the last year alone, 5,091 students graduated from the program (93% women). 80% indicated they improved their personal economic status as a result. In addition, during the last year, the centers conducted 275 programs on economic and legal literacy including workplace success, job readiness and resume writing for 4,615 people. 99% of respondents who attended economic and legal literacy programming indicated that they valued the skills obtained. Specifically, 52% felt these skills provided an opportunity for an additional source of income; 70% said the information was helpful in preserving their jobs; and 43% stated the course was instrumental in boosting their self-confidence.

In 2017-2018, we are especially proud to report:

  • Tambov, Russia – The local computer center received the third prize in a Russia-wide Microsoft competition aimed to develop and maintain interest in IT and computer programming.   

  • Khmelnitsky, Ukraine – Computer course students reported about their accomplishments at a citywide program called “Community Day”, that was held by experts through the support of the British charitable organization, World Jewish Relief.

  • Vinnitsa, Ukraine – At an International Forum, long time computer center administrator, Olga Shevchuk, spoke to organizations and individuals about this program.

 

Project Kesher’s Economic Literacy Program becomes more comprehensive each year:

  • Basic financial knowledge is provided including such topics as women and their relationship to money, strategies for dealing with a financial crisis, techniques for reducing expenses, understanding insurance, choosing a reliable bank, making electronic payments, women’s economic and social status, building skills to effectively manage money. Below are the details of this program in many of our cities:

    • Krivoy Rog, Ukraine – Financial advisors are invited to educate women on a wide range of topics including, getting a mortgage, purchasing a car, obtaining of credit, using credit cards, and banking on-line.

    • Makeyevka, Ukraine – Participants learn about online-resources to pay for public utilities services and how online shopping works.  In a region with more limited retail options, online shopping can be critical to getting necessary items at competitive prices.

    • Gomel, Belarus – Computer center students participate in practical classes on  internet-banking.

 

  • Professional development workshops are offered, including preparation of effective resumes and cover letters, using the Internet for job searches, developing interview and presentation skills, how to dress for an interview, early success on the job, time management, interaction with supervisors and colleagues and entrepreneurship. In addition, Project Kesher provides consultation and assistance with job searches by forging relationships with local job centers and placement authorities. By the end of the training period, 60 percent of the students who post their resumes on job search websites have received offers of employment.

    • While these types of trainings exist in most of these cities, we are particularly proud of the work in Tbilisi, Georgia where the number of young women ready to open their businesses grows, among such businesses are: mini-movie theaters, travel agencies, internet-cafes and stores.  Program graduates often design their own websites to promote their businesses.

  •  Targeting Women with young families, including family budgeting, economic education in the family, legal issues with regard to maternity leave, credit programs for young families and youth, and economic violence in the family. It should be noted that economic and legal literacy issues were included as part of this year’s “16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence,” in recognition that men may withhold money in a household as part of a pattern of domestic violence.

 

While the centers offer advanced technology courses, there is still a need for basic computer training, particular for middle-aged and elderly adults. ORT-KesherNet provides this programming with a focus on gaining a comfort level with internet usage and includes making electronic payments, purchasing medicine via the internet, getting health care information online, and more.

  • In Simferopol, Crimea, seminars provided assistance on how to find and download governmental documents to assist with issues ranging from pension support to housing. 

Basic programming includes social media training. More and more women understand the importance of social networks and learn to use networking as a tool of successful communication.

 

Impact Exceeding Our Goals

The Mara Schwartz ORT-KesherNet Centers have impact that far exceeds the goal of educating women in basic and advanced computer skills.

  • The Centers provide a venue for local PK women’s groups to meet, plan community programs and implement their social activism agendas. They offer these women training in leadership and grassroots organizing, and attract dynamic young women to advance Jewish identity and women’s equality.

  • As a resource for using email, they allow women to communicate with local government agencies, NGO’s, and community leaders about important issues, pending legislation, holiday celebrations and more. Moreover, they are used by women who have been displaced due to the war in eastern Ukraine to communicate with their family and friends.

  • They offer opportunities for multicultural and religious groups to come together and share resources.

  • The Centers nimbly create specialized programs based on identified needs. For example, during this time of conflict, they now offer psychological counseling and services and have expanded the Economic and Legal Literacy Program for displaced families and refugees.

  • And they motivate women, many of whom are under great stress, toward self-actualization, helping them to take control of their lives and fine-tune their professional skills.

 

The Training Improves Lives

  • Anastasya from Tula, Russia is a single mother. Having graduated from web-design training course she got a job as a website administrator responsible for booking travel packages;

  • Olga from Tver, Russia is a teacher in a local school. After she participated in a home accounting course she turned the lessons into a presentation on family budgets.    Shortly thereafter, she was hired (for pay!) by a program on business management to provide financial literacy classes. 

  • Natalia from Volgograd, Russia was trained as a designer and her specialty is coats. After graduating from the program, she designed a website where she posts short video lessons of dressmaking. The website is quite popular, and Olga started to earn additional income posting advertisements on her website; 

  • Elena from Rybinsk, Russia is a dentist in a municipal clinic, planning to start a private practice. She took the training course to learn how to run a computerized practice and is now taking private patients;

  • Svetlana from Kineshma, Russia took the training to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional photographer and having an additional source of income. She is now actively participating in local photo-contests;

  • Elena from Makeyevka, Ukraine, participated in trainings on economic and legal literacy and has opened her own business.; 

  • Natalia from Cherkassy, Ukraine, is a confectioner but had been unemployed for an extended period. After our training course, she went for a job interview where she presented her project on public catering based on Jewish cuisine traditions  and was hired as a foodservice manager in a synagogue, school and nursery school; 

  • Veronika from Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, decided to participate in  training course to learn how to do online shopping so she could reduce her costs;

  • Viktoria from Lutsk, Ukraine, lost her position after her maternity leave because they said she was no longer up to date in her knowledge of accounting software.  After the training she was hired as an accountant in a private company;

  • Yana from Vinnitsa, Ukraine, took specialized courses  on web-design and web-programming. Now she is employed designing websites;

  • Tatiana from Polotsk, Belarus is a social worker and took the training to assist her in her work; and

  • Dina from Tbilisi, Georgia,  opened a small stationery store after completing her training.