Each his neighbor they help, and to his brother he said: "Be strong!"
(Isaiah, XLI, 6)
We have now been engaged for five years in assisting the children and youth of Sderot. While 2011 is considered to have been a "calm" year, calm in Sderot is a relative term. In fact, not a single week went by without Qassam rockets or mortar shells being fired on or near the city. While the Israeli air and land forces' day and night vigilance was able to prevent short range weapons from launching, medium and long range rockets hit as far as Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beer-Sheba.
Past experience and level-headed analysis suggest that, sooner or later, there will be no other choice but to once again take on a wider military action to put a stop to these continuous attacks on Israeli civilians.
Thankfully, Sderot and the surrounding localities are now better prepared and protected, due to the extensive governmental investment in shelters and other protective infrastructure.
Through all this, and against all odds, the population of Sderot is steadfast in its efforts to maintain a sense of normalcy, committed to lead a normal daily life. Still, the Municipality is in a difficult financial situation and needs to carry out a recovery plan, which would unfortunately imply wide layoffs. Many of those future unemployed are of advanced ages and would have very little hope of finding new jobs in the difficult economic environment.
It is in this difficult and complex socio-economic and military context that we operate, working to extend a helping hand in the areas of social welfare, informal education, care of children and youth at risk, anti-drug, high-school alcohol abuse, violence and more. Together with the municipal welfare department and the Community Center, we introduced numerous educational platforms, among them workshops for high school students,
13th and 14th grade curriculum for electronic practical engineers, financing enrichment courses for children and youth and a pre-military preparation class, purchasing Cinematheque subscription cards for children, as well as our regular computers, furniture, clothing and food donations.
Here are some details about our activities in Sderot during the past year:
Cluster of Children's Clubs
The clubs' cluster for children of grades 1-6, which is operated by the "Re'uth" Association, our partners in this project, was renovated and inaugurated in an impressive ceremony. Mr. Yigal Levin, representative of the Hong-Kong Kadoorie Foundation, that donated an important sum to support this activity, was on hand, as was Sderot Mayor Meir Buskila. We plan to add to the complex a center for remedial teaching, and thus maximize the use of the location. Deeply impressed by the achievement, Mr. Levin undertook on the spot to make an additional important donation that will facilitate the implementation of a continuation program for children having graduated from sixth grade and lacking a supportive frame. The program will provide these children a supportive emotional and nutritional framework, a follow-up and tutorship in their studies, and group activities such as a weekly trip to the marina in Ashkelon or Herzliya for seamanship training, as well as other group activities.
This year too, we sent pupils from the two comprehensive high-schools in Sderot – the religious and the secular – to workshops at the Cameri Theater in Tel-Aviv. These included visits of the theater, conversations with actors and stage directors, and attendance at a play chosen by the school.
We purchased hundreds of subscription cards for 1st-6th grade pupils. Here we attained a double goal: offering children the possibility to watch quality movies, and provide a critical financial support to the local cinematheque, which has severe budgetary problems.
Summer camps and summer projects
With the generous help of donators, we managed to send 200 children from distressed families to summer camps, in association with the Welfare Department and the Community Center, and hold other summer activities for them after the camps were closed.
Study groups for children from social care families
A joint project with the Welfare Department and the Community Center, during the whole school year. It includes enriching courses in English, computers, or drawing, ceramics, judo, capoeira, various instruments playing and more. This was made possible mainly thanks to an important contribution by the pharmaceutical firm "Teva", which generously responded to our request.
Practical engineers' course for 13th and 14th grade pupils
The 15 students of first two year course completed their studies and joined the Air Force as electronics practical engineers! The 8 students of the second course shall soon terminate their studies and join the army next summer. The third course, with 7 students, was opened at the "Amal" College in Beer-Sheba, and preparations are under way to select appropriate candidates for the fourth. This project has proven a great success: even though the number of students is not high, it is extremely significant to the individual participant and is considered to be a major contribution to the future social fabric and economic vitality of the city.
Pre-military preparation course
The first course completed its studies this year, with great success, and the second course opened in September with 45 pupils, almost twice the number of the previous one. It is now held in what we hope will be its permanent location, the "Gil" school building.
As their predecessors from the first course, the current participants have well integrated in the quarter where they live and study, to which they bring an important and positive contribution. Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Chief of the General Staff, who had promised to the Mayor of Sderot to open such a course in his town, sent us the following words:
Thanks for the thought and the updating.
It is a joy to hear about your achievements.
I have no doubt how critical education and opportunity
Are for closing social gaps.
I so acted as a Chief of Staff and this is my belief today.
Please convey my sincere appreciation to all those who are
doing the job, including Zeevik and yourself.
We enjoy our stay in Washington and are longing to
be back at home.
All the best,
The project continued and even extended, while successive cuts in the municipal welfare budget diminished and almost eliminated the possibility for the clubs to prepare hot and nourishing meals for the children
there. Because of the difficult economic situation of their families, the meal provided through this program is all too often the only warm meal that they receive during the whole day. Thanks to the generosity of the Christians for Israel in Canada Community who have undertaken to support our warm meal project, we are able to offer every day in all "our" clubs a decent meal comprising meat, vegetables and fruit, to tens of children at risk from families in distress. The Spiritual Shepherd of the Community, Revd. John Tweedie visits Sderot regularly at least once a year and brings back to his flock in Canada first hand impressions that generate an ever growing, greatly appreciated contribution, particularly to this project.
Air Gadna (Air Youth Corps) in the air section (Gadna-Avir) of the Youth Corps, youngsters construct model planes, study aviation, and practice gliding, under the direction of Air Force officers. The Air Gadna activity in Sderot has been suspended this year, and shall be resumed next year, following a countrywide reorganization of that framework by the Air Force.
Links with the Negev Nuclear Research Center
Scientists from the Center serve as tutors to pupils of the secular comprehensive high school, especially in computers disciplines, and bring them to impressive achievements in their final works. The project, which we initiated at the beginning of our action in Sderot, continues worthily since then.
The programs described above are the highlights of our activities in Sderot. Needless to say, we are fully committed to continue these activities and others, continually seeking additional ways to respond quickly and efficiently to existing and new needs. With your help, we feel fortunate to be able to contribute our time, cumulative experience and connections to help alleviate but some of the challenges of the people of Sderot.
We are present there at least once a week; we have become a part of the landscape and an address for requests from various factors to help in a wide range of all kinds of subjects. We consider all these requests with the utmost seriousness and respond to them positively in the measure of our best possibilities. Sometimes our knowledge of government institutions or influential organizations and personal links with them are sufficient to obtain the required assistance. Some other times, when the subject does not correspond exactly with our declared aims, we do not hesitate to contribute with our private moneys and help wherever we can. The most important for us is to be able to be helpful and solve problems – which, alas, abound.