With a focus on volunteerism and coexistence, it’s only natural that almost everyone coming through the Hannaton Educational Center will spend time in one of the neighboring villages. Whether it’s during a scheduled service visit in a school or at a community center, or at an organized event arranged to help us get to know each other better, our students find themselves at least once a week out of Hannaton and in the heart of one of the neighboring villages.
This year, students are spending time in three different villages. In Bir El Maksur, our Mitzpeh BaGalil gap year students volunteered during the first semester teaching children in the local elementary school. There they had a chance to help advance the students’ English, as well as engage the kids in informal play activities. But the connection the gap year students have made with the adults in the community has been equally important. The Mitzpeh students noted how meaningful it was for them to meet people closer to their own age – including teachers and young women doing national service in the village – as a way of gaining new insights about the village’s population and culture.
Just a mile down the road, in the Arab village of Kfar Manda, Mechina participants are teaching Hebrew to teenagers at the community center and working with children at a local school. Ilan, Michal, Roi and Dana spend an afternoon a week at the Achva school for children with developmental and physical disabilities. The ten children – some in wheelchairs, others with communication difficulties, one who is blind – spend time singing, playing and getting to know their neighbors.
Mechina participants also value their interactions with the adults in Kfar Manda – both the aides who help the children and the local residents who live and work near the school. “When we open ourselves up to them, this makes the difference” says Ilan. “We tried to learn some Arabic from the aides, and they were really excited by this. One day when we started to play music, they brought out a loudspeaker and everyone started dancing – kids, Mechina students, aides – everyone. It was great. They show us pictures of their children. Pride in family is common to every culture.”
Michal finds that some of the people are a bit skeptical about the Mechina participants, at least first. “We need to make the first move,” says Michal. “For example, we regularly buy baklava, a honey pastry, from a local bakery. One day, I asked the owner his name. He immediately smiled and welcomed us in. Now he brings us special cookies whenever we come by. Opposite the school there is an organic farm, and when we introduced ourselves to the owner he offered to teach a cooking class at the mechina.”
“Everything is open,” says Ilan. “We want to hold a special end of year program for the whole Mechina, the children and all of the parents at the school. There is an empty greenhouse waiting to be filled. We want to all come together and plant and make it green. This is something everyone can share and appreciate.”
In Zarzir, a nearby Bedouin town, students in our Mechina program are helping out in an after school program for at-risk youth. “Shaar Shivyon” (“The Equalizer“) offers tutoring services, a soccer program and a supportive place to spend time in after school. This year, Hannaton mechina students joined as volunteers for the first time after our staff heard about the program during a previous “You Cannot Ignore It” exchange (see other article).
Five Mechina students volunteer with the soccer team, teach Hebrew and serve as big brothers and sisters to 15 children in the 5th and 6th grades. Daniel, Maor and Keren help out with homework, play games with the children and teach Hebrew through music and sports. Ori and Meitar run a soccer program for the children, who have tournaments with other teams from around the country.
“It’s not just about helping these kids succeed,” says Daniel. “It’s also about negating stigmas, between Jews and Arabs. The first question they asked me when we came to volunteer was ‘are you a Jew?’ This was the first time anyone asked me that question. I wasn’t insulted. They just don’t have any interactions with Jews. And it’s not just about Jews teaching Arabs. The children are familiar with Israeli music, but they are equally excited to share their culture with us. One day they brought in Arabic music and taught us how to do the debka, an Arab dance. We’re breaking down barriers here.”