This year was the twelfth year of our engagement in Sderot yet with new cycles of rocket shelling still part of the inhabitants ongoing reality, the hard impression of our first visit to the rocket-stricken city remains ever imprinted on us.
The relative tense calm that reigned during the four years following operation Protective Edge, characterized by sporadic events, has come to an end. March 30th, "Land Day”, saw the beginning of a series of mass demonstrations in the Gaza Strip along the Israeli border, that still continue with changing levels of violence. The aim and pretext for these demonstrations and riots, called by the Palestinians “The Great March of Return”, were attempts to break the Israeli and Egyptian blockade and introduce masses of people into Israel as an act of return of refugees and their descendants, destroy the fences and other frontier obstacles, and take over Israeli settlements along the border. The demonstrations and riots were also intended to raise again the Palestinian refugee problem on the world agenda, that has waned during the last years due to many causes, among which the political changes and the internal wars in the Moslem Middle Eastern area.
The relative calm in the region is temporary and an additional military confrontation in the series launched by the Hamas since it took over power in Gaza seems unfortunately almost inevitable.
On this background, and despite the tension, normal life continues in Sderot. The city 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 years’ 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.
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, such as those whose families are supported by the welfare division of the municipality, so as to equip them with appropriate tools to succeed and evolve from their hard situation.
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, financing enrichment courses for children and youth in cooperation with the municipal welfare department and the Community Center, and more.
HERE ARE SOME DETAILS ABOUT OUR ACTIVITIES IN SDEROT DURING THE PAST YEAR
Assistance to Children and youth at risk Clubs
This is one of the main tasks we have taken upon ourselves, supporting eight clubs, providing assistance, guidance and support to over 200 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, C4i Canada , 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 200 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. firsthand impressions that energize ever growing, greatly appreciated long term support to this project, as well as to many of our other educational activities.
For this eleventh 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 plays chosen by the school. This year 50 girls from the AMIT educational network religious school in Sderot also took part in this activity in addition to the pupils of the secular high school.
More than 100 children from our clubs attended two theatre performances and two “Festigal” events on the occasion of the last feast of Hanukkah.
All these activities included both tickets and transportation to the various locations of the events – Tel-Aviv, Beersheba and Ashdod.
A mathematic excellence forum for 5th and 6th grade children, initiated 21 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 workshop, and special events as lectures, Olympiads, individual and group games, visits to institutions such as the Weizmann Institute, the Technion and Science museums.
In this current year, 2018/19, about 40 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 and Sciences Computer labs and teleprocessing equipment for the Gutwirth comprehensive high school
During the past four years we have funded the creation of two computerized language labs for the teaching of English and sciences at the Gutwirth comprehensive high school in Sderot, one for the senior grades and the other for the middle-level ones. The two labs comprise 57 computer positions at a cost of more than 400,000 NIS (approximately $110,000), made possible thanks to a generous donation by the Canadian C4i association and the help of another generous donor who chose to remain anonymous.
The two labs function well and serve the pupils not only for English and sciences learning but also as an auxiliary tool for the preparation for examinations and similar purposes.
In summer 2018 we have contributed to a thorough operation of maintenance of the computing equipment of the two labs and of other teleprocessing devices used by the school. At the end of the year we have also funded the acquisition of three powerful computers with a larger memory volume and a higher processing capacity, one of them being destined to the robotics team.
The robotics FIRST program
The international FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program is supported by the Ministry of Education and conducted as an official project of the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
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.
Upon our initiative and with our assistance, a group of talented pupils was formed three years ago at the Gutwirth comprehensive high school to participate in that project. The group is benevolently led by Aharon Alkaslasi, a highly qualified engineer whom we recruited for that purpose. This team, recognized by the international community of the program as Boosteam-15811, won this year the first place in one of the groups at the national competition held at the Haifa Technion and subsequently flew to an international competition in the United States, accompanied by their mentor. The team pursues its activities in the present 2018-2019 school year, and we continue to financially support the acquisition of materials and instruments needed for the construction of the robots, as well as of a powerful computer. We endeavor to expand robotics also to younger pupils, so that they might later be tutored by the elder ones.
Enriching Study groups for children from social care families
A continual joint project with the Community Center, during the whole school year, involving about 150 children whose families are cared for by the municipal; Welfare Department. It includes enriching courses in English, computers, chess, drawing, ceramics, judo, capoeira, dance, playing various musical instruments and more.
About 50 children from our clubs have also been hosted in these courses, thus being integrated with other children in the activities of the Communal Center and benefiting of its services, up to a total of 200 children.
We have also taken the initiative of creating in the Center a branch of the International Dennis Survival Self-Defense Jiu-Jitsu. Beyond teaching self-defense methods, this course instills self-confidence, tolerance and mutual respect. In line with our vision of giving the children of Sderot the opportunity to enjoy the same activities as children anywhere else in the country, this project has been operating since the beginning of the 2018/19 school year,
Cooperation with the Sapir Academic College
We continued this year our close cooperation with the Sapir College Dean of students, Alon Gayer, and with its Community Involvement Department. For the fifth consecutive year we held during the last feast of Hanukkah in December 2018 a moving Scholarship Endowment Ceremony at the college, commemorating two of our association’s late founding members, Shmuel Reshef and Yaacov Aloni.
We distributed 12 scholarships to excelling Sapir College students from Sderot and laptops to 8 outstanding pupils of the Gutwirth comprehensive high school.
In 2018 too we donated hundreds of books to the Municipal and to the Gutwirth high school libraries, including books in English and in Russian. More are to come.
Assistance to elderly Shoah survivors
During our frequent visits to Sderot we became aware of the health and economic distress of some elderly men and women, Shoah survivors. After having thoroughly surveyed the question, we found that more than 200 persons are recognized as such by the Government ministries, the Local Council and specialized associations, and receive financial and other help according to the existing laws and arrangements.
However, some of them need assistance to solve problems as fixing dental prosthesis, or acquisition of glasses or diapers, which they did not manage to receive due to bureaucratic or other reasons. After having examined some of these cases, we came to the conclusion that their suffering cannot be dealt by the existing system and decided to immediately answer their demands. We felt a moral duty to prevent even one more day of suffering for these dear persons, whose lot has been such a horrible suffering in the past.
Assistance to children at risk and other persons of Ethiopian origin
During all the years of our action in Sderot, we focused our efforts on assistance to these groups of children, reckoning that they belong to a weak community, still confronted with difficult problems of absorption in Israel. We more than once intervened on their behalf and assisted them and their monitors to prevent them being discriminated in comparison with other groups.
Beyond our current assistance to the clubs comprising children and youth of Ethiopian origin, and funding their participation in theater and other performances, we have placed in 2018 a greater emphasis on the Atsmaut Club, which includes most of the children belonging to this group, its activities and its future. We funded the employment of an interim club director for six months when we learned the city will not provide funding for the position while the director was on maternity leave.
We have also been involved in the decisions and process concerning the transfer of the club to its new premises, including funding of the design and furniture of the club, in order to ensure their adequateness to its destination and see that it operates five days a week with two groups of 15 children each.
In 2018 we have participated in the funding of the Roots Journey of a group of youngsters, most of them of Ethiopian origin, cared for by the Youth Promotion Unit. This unit deals with problematic youth belonging to groups at risk of drug abuse, alcohol and criminality.
We have also funded the acquisition of Hebrew learning books for a group of Ethiopian origin women studying in a class language at the Atsmaut club.
Assistance to music therapy for children with learning disabilities
In our visits to Sderot we have become acquainted to an extraordinary project of music therapy for children on the autistic spectrum and children with learning disabilities. This project is conducted by a special academic trained instructor, Ayelet Meltzer, in three places: a kindergarten for autistic spectrum children, a new Torah school and the middle-grade comprehensive religious high school.
We have been astonished to discover that this most important activity, while being under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, cannot be conducted properly due to the lack of budget for the acquisition of special ethnic instruments, which have proven to be the most suitable for this method of musical therapy.
After finding out that there was little chance to get the necessary budget, amounting to NIS 18,000, thus depriving the project of its vital working tools, we decided to fund their acquisition.
In our last visits to Sderot we went to the special kindergarten and were gratified to see the impressive contribution of these means
to the successful treatment of the children.
Hanukkah presents and "Purim baskets” for the clubs children
During the past years we have bought 150-200 “Purim baskets” and distributed them to the clubs’ children. On the occasion of the last feast of Hanukkah we also bought and distribute them Hanukkah presents.
Accompanying groups of donors and supporters to Sderot and its surroundings
During the past year we have accompanied a number of groups of donors and supporters of our activities in Sderot. We consider such visits as highly important and as an appropriate occasion to thank them for their contribution and support.
The programs described above are the highlights of our activities in Sderot.
As we enter our thirteenth 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 with a high frequency 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.
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.
Our activity 100% voluntary. There is not even one salaried member of the Association. We receive benevolent legal advice from Adv.Yaakov Danai and professional accounting services from Michael Even-Dar. Our account is being managed at the Ramat Hasharon branch of the Otzar HaHayal Bank, whose director, Ofer Kirshner has also accepted to assist our association by not charging any commissions or other expenses for our operations there.
Our association strictly observes the proper management rules according to the Law on Associations. At the end of 2018, as well as in previous years, the Ministry of Justice Associations Registrar issued to it a confirmation of orderly management, valid for the year 2019. We have also an authorization from the Tax Authorities for tax deduction on donations (according to para 46 of the Income Tax Ordinance).
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.
For additional information on our activities, pictures and films, you are invited to visit our site http://www.friends4sderot.org.il .