This year was the tenth year of our activity in Sderot yet we still feel as if it was only yesterday that we first visited this rocket-stricken city. While responding to a wide range of needs in a variety of fields, we have remained focused on the impetus that guided us from the very first day – education and culture, especially for underprivileged children and youth at risk, so as to equip them with appropriate tools to succeed and evolve from their hard situation.
Since Operation Protective edge two and a half years ago, it appears that Hamas made a strategic choice not to drag us into another operation before they consider themselves to be ready, concentrating instead on restoring destroyed tunnels and digging new ones, developing self made rockets and inciting unrest and terrorist attacks and the "knives Intifada" in Judea and Samaria.. But the tense calm in the region is temporary, and one does not need to be a military expert to assess that a new violent confrontation with Hamas is only a question of time.
The heavy Israeli investment in shelters and other protective infrastructures, along with 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 destruction among civilians.
Additionally, an underground sophisticated obstacle is currently being built along the border with Gaza, amounting to billions of dollars, which is intended to prevent the underground tunnels threat, considered by the Hamas as a "strategic weapon".
The city of Sderot is presently enjoying a strong development momentum. New quarters are being built, with hundreds of housing units, rocket proof schools, public buildings, gardens, parks and playgrounds. The demand for housing is high, both for ownership and for rental.
The municipality of Sderot has positively emerged from the previous year’s great deficit, and may even finish the present budgetary year with a small surplus. 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 continue to suffer from a permanent budgetary shortage. This is where we mobilize to fill the gap as best as we can.
With our fingers on the pulse of the city, we continue our pro-active engagement in the areas of social welfare, informal education, care of children and youth at risk, providing hot meals for children from social care families clubs, conducting anti-drug workshops, battling high-school alcohol abuse and preventing violence. Using educational tracks for high school students, we introduced a 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 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
This is one of the main issues we have taken upon ourselves, supporting eight clubs, providing assistance, guidance and support to over 190 children and youth at risk. Our support consists of a monthly contribution to each of the clubs, personal mentoring, assistance with the national and municipal welfare authorities, holiday gifts and more.
We put a particular emphasis on two clubs for Ethiopian children and youth, and invest in them more than in others, according to the needs.
The project continued and even expanded, 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 hot meal that they receive during the whole day. Thanks to the generosity of the Christians for Israel, Canada and C4i America, who have undertaken to support our hot meal project, we are able to offer every day in all "our" clubs a decent meal comprising of meat, vegetables and fruit, to tens of children at risk from families in distress. The spiritual shepherd of the North American charity, Rev. John Tweedie, visits Sderot regularly at least once a year and brings back to his flock in Canada and the U.S., first hand impressions that generate an ever growing, greatly appreciated long term contribution, particularly to this project.
For this tenth 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.
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
Sulamot 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 second year of the program with pupils of the Haroeh and Shikmim-Maoz schools, and are considering extending 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.
A mathematic excellence forum for 5th and 6th grade children, initiated 19 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 mathematical and logical thinking, promote excellence and creativity among pupils having an interest and aptitude in mathematics, and to 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 to institutions such as the Weizmann Institute, the Technion and Nature museums.
In this current year, 2016-17, 46 pupils from Sderot participate in the program. We strive to further develop the potential of this program and increase the number of pupils involved. We cover the travel fares to and from Beersheba all the year round, a substantial expenditure every shekel of which is worthy.
English as a second language and Sciences Computer lab.
Established two years ago at the Gutwirth high school, the lab functions well and serves students from middle and high schools not only for English learning but also as an auxiliary tool for the preparation for examinations and similar purposes.
This year we have opened an additional lab at the high school, at a cost of 220,000 shekels (approximately $60,000), with the help of a generous donor, who asked to remain anonymous. It will serve mainly the pupils of the mid-level grades.
The FIRST program.
This is an international program that teaches high school students the significance and value of investment and entrepreneurship. The course promotes initiative, creativity and teamwork through the design and construction of robots, culminating in a robot competition in Israel and abroad. High school pupils take part in the program already this year, with the assistance of tutors from Israel-based Elbit, one of the world’s most successful technology companies. Starting in April of 2017, middle school students will also join the program. We help to finance it, together with other factors.
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 summer break, we helped to take the children to visit museums, heritage sites as well as amusement parks. 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
We have helped to operate a joint project with the Community Center, during the whole school year, involving about one hundred children. It includes enriching courses in English, computers, chess, drawing, ceramics, judo, capoeira, dance, playing various instruments 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 50 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 200 children.
This project was made possible thanks to an important contribution by the Dan & Gloria Schusterman Foundation, which generously responded to our request and to a donation from the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation in Florida.
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 in Jerusalem. 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 full voluntary basis, and we support all the travel expenses between Sderot and Jerusalem.
Cooperation with the Sapir Academic College
Continuing our close cooperation with the Sapir College Dean of students, Alon Gayer, and with the Community Involvement Department, we held the third annual Scholarship Endowment Ceremony. In a moving event commemorating two of our association’s late founding members, Shmuel Reshef and Yaacov Aloni, we distributed scholarships to excelling Sapir College students from Sderot and to outstanding students of the Sderot comprehensive high-school.
Practical engineers course for 13th and 14th grade pupils
Since we began this program, dozens of students have 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 computer disciplines, and bring them to impressive achievements in their final works.
Thanks to our relations with the owner of a second hand bookstore in Ramat-Aviv, hundreds of books have been donated this year to the Municipal and high school libraries, including books in English and in Russian. More are to come.
The programs described above are the highlights of our activities in Sderot.
As we enter our eleventh year of activity, we are as committed as ever to widen and deepen our involvement in this unique community, doing all we can to assist, support, strengthen, encourage, and provide hope.
As has been our practice since day one, we are present there at least once a week and have become a part of the landscape. Receiving requests of assistance from a wide range of fields and for a variety of needs, we consider each and every request with the utmost seriousness and respond to them positively in the measure of our best abilities.
While we are few, our network is large, and ever growing. Sometimes our knowledge of government institutions or influential organizations and personal links with them are sufficient to obtain the required assistance. Other times, when the subject does not correspond exactly with our declared aims, we do not hesitate to contribute personally with our private money 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 volunteerism. There is not even one salaried member of the Association, and the professional help that we receive in legal advice or accounting 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.