Each his neighbor they help, and to his brother he said: "Be strong!"
(Isaiah, XLI, 6)
Nine years of intensive activity in assisting the children and youth of Sderot are behind us, and we are already engaged in the tenth one.
Since Operation Protective edge one and a half years have passed and except for a few incidents the sector remained calm. It looks like the Hamastan terrorists have internalized the lesson and are cautious not to drag us into another operation before they consider themselves to be ready. They restore tunnels that were destroyed and dig new ones, try self developed rockets and besides attempt to initiate terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria, taking advantage of the "knives Intifada" there. But the tense calm in the region is temporary, and it is obvious to any knowledgeable observer that a new violent confrontation with Hamas is only a question of time.
The heavy investment in shelters and other protective infrastructures, as well as the deployment of the anti-rocket Iron Dome defense system, have proven their efficiency and one may hope that in the case of a new outburst of violence these would ensure a minimum rate of casualties and destructions among civilians.
The municipality of Sderot still carries a heavy deficit
The mayor succeeds in collecting donations, mainly from abroad, but these are earmarked for development projects and do not add to the meager welfare budget. Vital items, as children and youth at risk, economically distressed families, lonely elders and maintenance of youth clubs suffer from a permanent budgetary shortage, and this is where we mobilize to fill the gap as best as we can.
In this context, we continue our action in the areas of social welfare, informal education, care of children and youth at risk, warm meals for children from social care families clubs, anti-drug workshops, high-school alcohol abuse, or violence prevention. We pursued the promotion of 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 in cooperation with the municipal welfare department and the Community Center, as well as a pre-military preparation class, and more.
Here are some details about our activities in Sderot during the past year :
Children and youth at risk Clubs One of the main issues we deal with
We support directly 5 clubs and two familial "greenhouses", treating altogether 120 children and youth at risk. Our support consists in a monthly contribution to each of the clubs, assistance in connection with the national and municipal welfare authorities, holiday gifts and so on.
Warm meals 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 long term contribution, particularly to this project.
Theater workshops For this eighth consecutive year, we sent pupils from the comprehensive secular high-school in Sderot 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.
Musical Days This successful project of "Musical tastings" continues for the fourth year, at the comprehensive secular high-school in cooperation with the Music and Dance Academy in Jerusalem. Musicians from the Academy come to the school and demonstrate the use of various instruments – strings, percussion, wind and keyboard. At the end of the round, they join in a short and explained concert, in which they play a well known musical work.
Sulamot ("Scales") – Music for Social change is a three-year program for musical education Initiated by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tel-Aviv University, with the joint support of Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee through the Metzuyanegev ("Negev Excellence") Fund, dynamically directed by Ms. Sarah Elbaz. The participation of the Sderot children in the program is financed by us and the above mentioned bodies, covering a notable expense of which every agora is worth. The program is intended for pupils of 4th and 5th grades, with the aim of instilling values as responsibility, self discipline, tolerance and assiduity through musical education. The children generally come from communities deprived of the means to grant them high level enrichment studies. They receive expensive musical instruments and learn to play them and care for them. At the end of the year, a concert is held, expressing the children's surprising and moving achievements. We have concluded the first year of the program with pupils of the Haroeh and Shikmim-Maoz schools, and are considering to extend it to additional schools.
This project is dedicated to the memory of our late friend Dr. David Sela, a gifted musician and teacher, who initiated it but did not live to see it realized.
Kidumatica : a mathematic excellence forum for 5th and 6th grade children, initiated 18 years ago at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev by professor Miriam Amit, head of the Department of Science and Technology Education., for the promotion of talented pupils from underprivileged backgrounds. The program aims to nurture a mathematical and logical thinking, promote excellence and creativity among pupils having an interest and potentiality in mathematics, and to precociously discern young talents, promote them and integrate them in the sphere of modern science.
This activity, held at the BGU, includes weekly mathematics workshops, and special events as lectures, olympiads, individual and group games, visits of institutions as the Weizmann Institute, the Technion and Nature museums.
In this current year, 1995-96, 35 pupils from Sderot participate in the program, as we cover the travel fares to and from Beersheba all the year round.
English language computer Lab, established by us two years ago, functions well and serves pupils from middle and high schools not only for English learning but also as an auxiliary tool for the preparation for examinations and similar purposes. We are progressing in the current maintenance of the lab and the broadening of its activity to paying study groups in the afternoons, the revenue of which shall help us to cover the lab's maintenance costs.
Summer camps and summer projects. Summer camps for 1st to 6th grade children were financed this year too by the Ministry of Education. During the rest of the vacancy, we helped to take the children to leisure or historical sites like Superland or Luna Park. Our assistance was in providing tens of buses to the Community Center and the children's clubs for the transportation of the kids for these vital activities.
Study groups for children from social care families A joint project with the Community Center, during the whole school year, involving about one hundred children. It includes enriching courses in English, computers, or chess, drawing, ceramics, judo, capoeira, dance, various instruments playing and more.
This year we also started a chess club, thanks to a nice donation by a person who asked it to be earmarked for that particular activity.
The program included about 60 members of the Children's Clubs, who joined the other children already taking part in the activities of the Community Center, up to a total of 160 children.
The whole project was made possible mainly thanks to an important contribution by the Dan & Gloria Schusterman Foundation, which generously responded to our request.
Cooperation with the Jerusalem Music and Dance Academy This year we have further strengthened our cooperation with the Community and Youth Unit of the Music Academy located on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University. Besides the Musical Days at the high-schools, the Academy students give tutoring lessons at the Community Center and the Conservatory musical clubs, and have raised their level very significantly. The contribution of the Academy staff and students is on a fully voluntary basis, and we support all the travel expenses between Sderot and Jerusalem.
Cooperation with the Sapir Academic College We have pursued our close cooperation with the Dean, Alon Gaier, and with the Community Involvement Unit. For the second consecutive year, we held at the Academic college an impressive and moving ceremony of scholarship endowment distribution to College students and pupils from the Sderot comprehensive high-school in memory of two of our association late members, Shmuel Reshef and Yaacov Aloni.
Practical engineers course for 13th and 14th grade pupils Tens of pupils have until now been trained in six courses as electronics practical engineers, and joined the Air Force. The project is continued at the "Amal" College in Beer-Sheba, and preparations are under way to select appropriate candidates for an additional course. This project has proven a great success: even though the number of students is not high, one has to recall that priority is given to the recruitment to fighting units, and that the yearly total of 12th grade graduates does not exceed 200-250 pupils.
Links with the Negev Nuclear Research Center The project, which we initiated at the beginning of our action in Sderot, continues worthily since then. Scientists from the Center serve as tutors to pupils of the comprehensive high school, especially in computers disciplines, and bring them to impressive achievements in their final works.
Conclusion The programs described above are the highlights of our activities in Sderot, as we are fully committed to pursue a tenth year of intensive activity there. We are present there at least once a week and 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 personally with our private moneys and help wherever we can. The most important for us is to be able to be helpful and solve problems.
All our activity is run on a basis of complete voluntarism. There is not even one salaried member of the Association, and the professional help that we receive in legal advice or accountancy is also benevolent.
Our account is being managed at the Ramat HaSharon branch of the Otzar HaHayal Bank, which has also accepted to assist our association by not charging any commissions or other expenses for our operations there.
Every shekel collected by us from donations in Israel and abroad reaches entirely its destination, namely support to the population of Sderot and particularly to its children and youth at risk, in the areas of formal and informal education.