Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ashalim: It's All About Exposure

I was sitting in a meeting at the JDC office discussing my proposal for a national program that uses the arts to improve the academics of youth-at-risk when it all clicked. "The most important thing that we can do," Yehudit, who is in charge of the project, said, "is expose these children to art they never would have known about, and then to continue to give them chances to nurture and improve their new-found skills." This, to me, is what this work has been all about.

Through Ashalim, I have been given the opportunity to help change lives by opening children's eyes to the things I have always taken for granted: art and music. Through simple initiatives, we are able to illuminate a child's mind with a future full of possibilities. I don't mean to be cliche, but it's true. Two programs that make my point:


The other day I attended the opening ceremony of a new children's orchestra. The program hopes one day to be in every school in the country, providing every child with the very real opportunity to reap the benefits of a lifetime as a musician. For the opening, a small orchestra comprised of professional musicians from the Israeli Philharmonic, the program's music teachers, soldiers, and volunteers from local music schools played children-friendly pieces, including French composer's Camille Saint-Saën's fourteen movement sweet, "The Carnival of the Animals" to an audience of the future participants of the program. Each child sat on bleachers in the gym of the elementary school, clad in white sweatshirts advertising the program, red carnations in hand. I watched as each child eagerly awaited for the instrument they have chosen to study be highlighted in yet another whimsical song, and then run to present a carnation to their favorite performer. It was an uplifting evening full of so much excitement for what is to come. I eagerly await the end of year performance when the children themselves perform!
Highlighting the cello

Highlighting the flute

The children's instruments

Waiting with the carnations

Testing out the harp
Testing out the cello

After the show

Yeladim Yotstrim
Begun in Haifa, this is a program that connects the art museums with the after school programs, bringing an intensive art class to children who may never have seen a real painting before. After having visited Haifa several times, for workshops and meetings, and learned all about the curriculum and participating in talks about bringing the initiative to the whole country, I have now begun to implement the same art lessons in the two after schools where I work in Jerusalem.

After surviving a full lesson all in Hebrew, the beautiful results speak for themselves:

The continuation of the picture

At one of the moadoniyot

Exploring with the art supplies

The finished product!
 Some close-ups!

The finished product at the second moadonit

Monday, January 2, 2012

The JDC Impact

In working with Ashalim, JDC-Israel's department for youth at risk, as well as a fellow for JDC-Israel on a whole, I have been fortunate to be exposed to and even work on some pretty incredible social service projects over a relatively short amount of time. Since I arrived in mid-September, a mere three-and-a-half months ago, 

I have already learned about:
A Hibuki Child
  • A wonderful youth Chanukah Arts Camp in which participants create all aspects of a play from scratch during one intensive week.
  • Kfar Hassidim Youth Village which serves hundreds of new immigrants to Israel through a very enlightened and innovative academic approach. 
  • Cafe Yael near Sderot, where high school drop-outs, juvenile offenders, and disaffected teens learn entrepreneurship and are given the chance to rise up the business ladder and help run the cafe.
  • Hibuki, a clever therapeutic model where large, huggable dolls are given to child victims of trauma (first begun in Ashkelon and then brought to Japan in reaction to the earthquake and tsunami) where through learning to "care" for their not-so-invisible friend, they really learn to care for themselves.
  • The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, modeled after the Yemin Orde Youth Village in the north of Israel, and serving orphans of the genocide. 
  • Chotam, based on Teach For America, for which I was a corps member, in collaboration with Teach For All.
  • There's soooooo much more!
I have already visited/been involved with:
Children's artwork in Haifa from a December arts festival

  • Yeladim Yotsrim: a collaboration with the government, JDC, Haifa Museum of Art, and after school programs for youth at risk throughout Haifa that exposes students to a special art course and brought to museum visits and workshops.  
  • Sulamot: a youth orchestra program based on Venezuela's wildly successful national initiative, El Sistema.
An Ethiopian Kes during a traditional tea ceremony

  • Pact/ECHAD: an early childhood intervention program for Ethiopian children, that has instead helped so many more than just that population.
  • Better Together: an initiative that works to establish long-term change by partnering with already existing residents and providers to focus on early childhood, academics, and extracurricular opportunities. I visited a remarkable community center in the Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin.
An Arab-Israeli Kindergarten

  • CIL: both an incredibly moving and exciting documentary debut following the lives of disabled people living in Israel and a gorgeous Center for Independent Living in Beer Sheva that serves to 1,500 people with disabilities, including 400 Bedouins. There, we saw the breathtaking artwork created by those that both work and live there decorating every corner of the wall and the wildly successful restaurant that is adjacent, largely staffed by people with disabilities themselves.
A community garden at one of the Better Together Communities

  • TEVET: an employment facility for Arab Israeli women.
  • A Restorative Rehabilitation Center for juvenile offenders, where I heard the inspirational story of a boy who burned down the kitchen of a local store and then refurbished it himself, and in the process paving himself a new path. 
A concert celebrating the Ethiopian holiday of Sigd
  • An incredibly moving introductory workshop to a photography course for Jewish and Arab Israeli teens.
  • Several housing developments and community centers for new immigrants.
The restaurant outside of the CIL in Beer Sheva

  • Workshops for different professionals--educators, social workers, art and music therapists--working with youth at risk, in collaboration with JDC-Israel Ashalim and the Ministry of Education. 
  • I'm sure I'm forgetting many things...

 I have already worked at/on:
In the Maleh Room in Gilo
 A MALEH Room in Makif Gilo School: In JDC's words, "School-based dropout prevention program that works to retain... middle school students in their schools. Maleh sets up alternative learning spaces where high-risk students receive individualized emotional and scholastic support so that they can reintegrate into their regular classes." During my time there I worked one-on-one with six students, ages 14 to 16, providing English tutoring and mentorship. I also began working on a new initiative which will hopefully have a place in the national program that focuses on community.
At one of the moadoniyot

Moadoniyot: Basically after-school programs for youth at risk, where children arrive directly from school for a hot lunch, followed by a group meeting, homework support, play, extracurricular activities, and an ending meeting. I work at two different moadoniyot in Jerusalem, one in Bakka and the other in East Talpiyot, where I am providing one-on-one tutoring and working on implementing the "Yeladim Yotsrim" art collaboration program that began in Haifa.
Also at the moadonit

National Program in the Arts: I have been given the opportunity to write a research-based proposal for a national program that uses the arts to help bridge the gap of education for youth at risk. We're at the beginning stages but I am thrilled to get a chance to help in establishing a new program from the very beginning!

And this is only scratching the surface. I am constantly awed by the work that can be accomplished by all in all a small group of passionate, relentless, brilliant innovators. With all the problems in the world, when you look at the above list, it gives a lot of hope for 2012, don't you think?