Sunday, June 28, 2015

Forging Connections across the Globe

By Pauleen Faynberg
ENP Volunteer
Onward Israel- Boston

Learning how to be independent in a foreign country is not as easy a feat as one might think. Despite the freedom and adventure that comes with being alone, one must take upon several responsibilities that are both challenging and new. For me, these responsibilities include going grocery shopping, cooking meals for myself, navigating my way around the city and going to my internship at the Ethiopian National Project. You might ask why I have chosen to spend my free time this summer getting up early, going to work and volunteering. To answer this, I’ll explain what my volunteering at ENP actually consists of. I split my time between the office, working on the website and other social media forums, and spending time in the field working with kids from an all-boys school about 40 minutes from the main office in Jerusalem. As interesting as it is to learn the intricacies of marketing and social media in the office, nothing compares to interacting with the kids that make this organization possible. When I first arrived at the all-boys school, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect. Would the language barrier be a significant issue? Would they participate in the activities we had prepared for them? Would they like me? With these thoughts running through my head, I entered the classroom and met four charming, energetic 14 year old boys. Not only was I surprised at how well they understood English, but how willing they were to join in the games we had planned after just meeting us a few minutes earlier. Although, I was impressed with their ability to understand the rules of the games, miscommunication was a natural occurrence. Luckily, Instagram and soccer are both universal languages.  Once the boys found out I had an Instagram, they took at least 50 selfies on my phone and insisted I post at least 25 of them. Coming in as a close second favorite hobby is anything related to soccer. The boys were immediately impressed with my mediocre ability to juggle the ball and smiled when I headed the ball into the trash can. The fact is, the moment I connected with these boys on a personal level – the moment their faces lit up with smiles – was the moment I realized my importance in this organization. It’s not my job to force these kids to do activities they don’t want to do, but to understand their perspectives and lifestyles as well as share mine with them.  Simply seeing them smile makes this trip whole trip worth it.

See It To Believe It

By Jessica Cohen
ENP Volunteer
Israel Experience

The reality of my first week in the Scholastic Assistance Program was unlike any of my preconceptions. While I was prepared to interact with many Ethiopian-Israeli students, I was amazed by the program's impact and the teenagers' enthusiasm. On my first day there, after struggling to understand Hebrew and mostly resorting to conversations about American music and movies, the students were asked to fill out a survey on the program. I sat next to a girl who translated the questions for me and explained her answers, in order to help me understand and allow her to practice her English. In her explanations she told me that the program makes her feel prepared to begin high school, that she feels supported by her teachers and mentors, and that she loves being a part of it. I was thrilled to hear about the impact the program had on this one girl, but I had yet to see it in action.

The next day, it became very clear to me that these teenagers are blessed with an incredible experience. We took a field trip to an outdoor science center and about 30 students listened attentively to the tour guide for two hours, occasionally asking me if I understood the scientific concepts with my severely lacking Hebrew abilities. They discussed what they found intriguing amongst one another and when the tour ended they were given the chance to explore on their own. The kids excitedly ran back to the things we had past that they were interested in. This experience had clearly ignited a sense of wonder or curiosity in the students and motivated them to learn on their own.

From my first week and these experiences, it is evident that this program is much more than simply scholastic assistance. It is a social, cultural, and educational experience that will ideally increase their opportunities in the larger Israeli society. I look forward to the next six weeks with these students and hope to be able to further motivate them to achieve their goals!