Option Week 2 - Volunteering
After an hour drive north to Pardes Hana, we arrived at Emunah’s Neve Michael Children’s Home, an organisation that provides refuge and a loving home to 280 children and youth at risk. There were only 15 of us in total and we were split up into two groups, the other group heading to another children's home in Afula.
We were instantly surprised by the enormity of the complex, which we soon learnt included a school, library and basketball court/gymnasium. As we walked into the dining room, we were not just greeted by colourful Chanukah decorations, but also some friendly faces. Five Bialik students on their Israel program would be volunteering with us, one of whom was my cousin. We were given some background about the Children's home and how the children there have suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of their biological families. We understood our role and the importance of our presence for the next three days.
We were then taken to our living space for the next 3 days, and after setting ourselves up, headed down to lunch. As we sat down and began eating our "Meatless Monday" meal, our hands were grabbed by various kids, pulling us to the seats next to them.
Following lunch, we split off into family units – 12 kids who live with counsellors that take on a parental role. I tried to communicate with the boys I was assigned to but they only spoke and understood Hebrew, and so I was anxious about the following days. Luckily as we played games, I learnt ways to bypass the language barrier. After a couple hours of drawing, homework and rat-a-tat cat (or Tatachatool) we headed back to the dining room for an arts and craft Chanukah workshop, in which I sat with younger girls and made embellished candle holders, colourful spinning tops and window stickers.
For dinner, we paid for pizza for each of our family units which is customary when big groups come. After being thanked by the kids, we made our way back to our apartment for a movie night. We then finally crawled into our beds under the too-small doonas some of which, unlike the white hotel sheets we had become accustomed to, were printed with butterfies, Winnie the Poohs, or race cars.
The unfamiliar late wakeup began the day on a good note. Breakfast saw nine of us crowded around toast, cottage cheese, butter and pudding containers. We then helped in the kitchen because of the inspector coming later that week. My job was to unbox and stack all the different varieties of tinned tomatoes, beans, baking necessities and canned vegetables into neat supermarket-like rows.
After, we created some decorations to further liven up the dining room and generate a "Chanukah vibe". In the most colourful bomb shelter any of us had ever seen we made a huge banner which would later be hung up on the dining hall, and laminated candle decoration for educational activites.
After lunch we went back to our family units for chuggim time. In my family, we started with making clay Chanukiahs and decorating them with mosaic tiles and pens. It was really cute to see the boys get in the festive spirit and show their creative and imaginative ideas. Then we mixed between ball games and card games. Afterwards, I helped one of the boys with his computer homework – a technology called code monkey which simplifies coding and teaches its concepts to kids. We said our goodbyes for that day and in a 11-seater van headed to a nearby shopping district.
After some competitive ten-pin bowling full of gutter balls and cheerleading, we struggled to order from a Hebrew menu at the restaurant next store. We had mouthfuls of pizza, salad and pasta, and then strolled around the shops and again stocked up on snacks for the night ahead of us. After eating, dancing, singing and playing games in our apartment we said goodnight and went to bed.
Our emotions were low-spirited as we edged closer to final goodbyes with the kids. Following breakfast with the Bialik kids, during which we discovered the endless possibilities of the sandwich press we were provided, we headed down to the elementary school (110 students) on the premises. We arrived during the break and were taken by a group of girls into the building to play their version of tag hide and seek.
After recess, we split up, some of us went to sit in on the kid's Chanukah play rehearsal, while 3 of us, me included, went to an English class. I was paired off with a student and helped her with English crosswords, acting out the meaning of words and teaching her new words at the same time. As I taught her how to write my name and we sounded out animal noises so I could teach her them in English, I realised that the language barrier was only an obstacle if I let it be. We also played ball games in the gymnasium which was fun despite the fact that we lost to all the kids. As we walked throughout the hallways, new faces came up and ‘high-fived’ us, which brought a smile to all of our faces. After lunch, we split into our family groups and played sports, games and just hung out with the kids before the final goodbyes. We said goodbye and thanked the kids for inviting us into their home.
The experience we had was eye-opening and sadly, ended quickly. We all wished we could have spent more time building our friendships with the kids and helping in their homes. We were very grateful for the opportunity and thankful we picked it.