Thursday, August 20, 2015

Petah Tikvah and the day we did milkshakes

Since I came to Israel, I understand how much in this country is not planned beforehand. Things get arranged in a couple of seconds and plans might be subject to change every now and then. That is the spirit the Youth Center in Petah Tikvah carries on with. To an Italian who lives in Britain and is used to a pattern where everything is planned, it seems odd, but once I got used to the logic, everything is fine.

Therefore, when two days ago I arrived at 4 pm in Petah Tikvah to do my usual stuff, I found everyone was cleaning up. Asher, the Youth Center director, told me to involve some kids and clean as much as possible. To convince the kids was probably the hardest thing, until I showed them how little it would take to if we worked as a team. That proved effective, and in less than two hours, i.e. by 6pm, everything was spotless.

Kids were not lazy at all. They were really happy to do stuff outside the smartphone or computer bubble. Between 6pm and 7pm, I played cards, table tennis, play station and other stuff with one of them. It was curious that we understood each other, although my Hebrew skills are limited. At 7pm, when I came back to the room where the milkshake stage was set up, I found kids who were literally enthusiastic. They were queuing up to grab their milkshake, but many of them were actually making them and serving those to the others. It was literally inspiring. Not only kids were eager to taste milkshakes, but it was actually difficult for myself to find something to do as everyone was busy with tasks !

The important lesson ? for years I worked in charity in the US and in the UK, where everything works in a customer-provider manner. Israel, and the youth center in Petah Tikvah is teaching me the most important thing to do is to let the kids do, and whichever way, they proved so far amazing. Obviously the figure of a volunteer helps to discipline them and to test them. Since I got there, kids try out their "Anglit". They are curious, they ask questions every time. I was even asked what makes a non Jew like me to come to Israel and care about their community, "perhaps a girlfriend", David (one of the kids) asked me. I was far from embarrassed to tell it was not the issue at stake.

What stands at stake is that we, the volunteers, can help those kids fulfill their potential. After their primary or secondary school, some want to join the army, others would prefer the Yeshiva. A bunch of others tell me they would like to travel.
The milkshake session finishes at 8pm, and everything is over by 9pm. We spend the last couple of hours cleaning. I leave the youth center earlier than usual to Tel Aviv. That night, I feel like I have done something for the kids, and that they have done much for me !

Giacomo Paoloni

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My experience with ENP and the youth center of Beit shemesh

After a month of volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project (also known as ENP), many things could be said regarding the many encounters with the office work in Jerusalem and youth center in Beit Shemesh. Regarding the office work we had a tapestry mission consisting of gaining help from various organisation and plan an exposition of Jewish Ethiopian history and culture, permitting people around Israel and the United to connect and to bond with this community which is rich in its past. The center was separated between two groups, one elementary and one in the high school, Ethiopian kids of age ranging between 5 to 16. I personally had some private English tutoring with the younger group, being able to communicate in Hebrew was a huge asset and allowed me to teach basic knowledge. Most of the time with these groups were spent doing various activities such as singing, foosball, pool and discussions in addition of physical activities such as soccer and ping pong.

One of the most impactful activity was the cooking class where we cooked meals for the entire center comprising of over 20 youth and the staff where we had them participate in preparation process which had a big success with the kids and they were able to learn how to make salads and Israeli dishes. Outdoor activities were also particularly successful where the youth engaged and had a good time competing with each other.

My experience overall was very rewarding and being able to speak both English and Hebrew with them allowed me to fully implement myself withing the center and lead to a great experience which I am sure the youth had much profit and enjoyment from. I'm also grateful for having the opportunity to work with the staff member in the office and the youth center where we were able to help each other and complete our work combining different skills coming from people who traveled from around the world to be part of this project!

My encounter with the Ethiopian Community

Before arriving here, I heard many stories about the Ethiopian-Israeli Community. First and foremost, its struggle to arrive to the promised land is the one that struck me the most. The need for shelter and freedom of this community reminded me of the stories I heard from world war two survivors in Europe. My decision to volunteer with the organisation is therefore combined with an obligation I feel towards all the people that need help in society.
My second visit to Petah Tiqwah Youth Center to that extent was far from exciting. The Youth Center is located in one of the poorest areas of the city. Hardly anyone spoke English, or "Anglit". A young female soldier showed me around and introduced me to a group of youngsters playing soccer. I felt at first no interaction and was beginning to feel annoyed.

However, despite this first moment of hardship, I did not feel let down. The day after I came back again and stood with the kids for longer. That day, I felt I achieved much more and I seriously started to enjoy my time. I took the kids to a climbing gym and played with two little girls. Ofek and Shiri, I still remember their names. Only Ofek spoke some English. However, both of them, through the natural empathy kids have, were more than able to communicate with me. Shiri was scared of climbing, but through some advice coming from myself, and doing everything by herself, step to step, she climbed the wall to the top. Ofek too did well. Now I started to feel really useful. Once back to the Youth Center, I came back to the football field where I felt left out the day before and really made a difference: now I was refereeing the football matches and told the kids the rule. Not only were they eager to follow the rules, but they took the game more seriously. That was an incredible achievement. I played football all evening long until 10pm. One more hour, I played cards with the two girls mentioned above and then went back home to Tel Aviv.

In such a short time, I found the right amount of motivation to stay here and have a positive impact. By the end of it, I hope to have a basic level of Ivrit as well in order to improve my spoken interaction with the kids, but so far, so good !

Giacomo Paoloni