Published: September 26th 2012September 26th 2012
We are moving into the neighborhood
In 2010 I decided to take a gap year in Israel, something that I now look back on with great nostalgia. As cliché as this might sound, my gap year changed me, but then again I did not have one of those ‘backpacking around Europe’ gap years. My Gap year was about self-growth through education and challenging my ideologies.
I departed for Israel early February 2010 with around 15 other young naïve South Africans. I learnt more in that year than I had ever learnt throughout school and for now the endless stories run through my mind almost every day but I know, soon enough, these vivid memories will become blurred and distorted, therefore I think it is imperative that I start documenting that trip I took two years ago.
What is Israel to a tourist?
Israel is a small yet diverse Middle Eastern country with a long coastline on the eastern Mediterranean Sea and a small window on the Red Sea at the Gulf of Eilat.
Israel is acknowledged as a Jewish State but there are three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam which all have historical ties to the region. Israel thus contains a
The children at the creche loved the camera!
vibrant modern history and culture, based in part on the diverse, immigrant origins of its inhabitants returning from the Jewish Diaspora.
As a result of this vast mix of culture, not to mention the natural beauty of the country as well as a highly urbanized and economically developed society, Israel has become an eclectic, fascinating destination for travellers and pilgrims.
As documenting my experiences in Israel is a daunting task, I will start with the experiences that made the biggest impression on me, here goes my first entry:
Volunteer tourism - Bina
In the summer of my year In Israel I decided to get involved in a Tikkun Olam Programme in Tel Aviv (Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for ‘repairing the world’). This volunteering programme was offered by an amazing organisation, Bina, which has adopted the motto: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma Ghandi.
By this stage I had already been in Israel for about 4 months and had seen just enough in order to motivate me to volunteer. I needed to show them I was here not to solely indulge in the cosmopolitan beaches and parties with the elite
The younger children would sleep on the floor mattresses
Bina allowed us to live in the community in which we volunteered; a deprived neighbourhood, Kiryat Shalom, where we were exposed to a microcosm of Israel’s society; to its diversity, as well as its challenges.
The Kiryat Shalom neighbourhood is a modest area, situated near the South Tel Aviv Bus Station. In short, It is one of those places where everyone knows everyone.
The 15 of us split up on our own missions and chose what we felt closest to our hearts and who we felt could benefit from our contribution. I, along with another friend, decided to volunteer at an overcrowded crèche catering for the children of migrant workers originally from Eritrea and Sudan.
I had heard sad stories of how these children referred to their country of birth as ‘a bad place’, how their parents were lucky to be able to come to Israel and try to make some money for their extended family back ‘home’(very little money, as like many other countries, labour laws are not to their advantage).
When I entered the hot little room teeming with lots of sweaty children (Israel can easily reach 40*C), I was expecting to
This touched my heart, we were taking a walk to the park when these 3 friends put their arms round each other :)
see many sad, despondent faces, yet as I walked in, I was engulfed in the excited hugs of little smiling people.
For the next few months I was busy bringing toys to the crèche, changing nappies, drawing, playing, and taking them to the park which always proved to be one of the most exciting experiences for them.
Their excitement was intense and always left us exhausted but fulfilled at the end of each day. It felt odd when I left knowing I was going back to cool air-conditioned living with the luxury of space and comfort.
I promised the woman who ran the small crèche that I would return whenever I could to help out (I hope someday soon I can make that promise a reality), it is imperative that these children receive a decent education in a comfortable environment in order to facilitate them in becoming responsible caring people who will contribute positively to society.
I found that during my time in Israel, volunteer programmes such as these were in about every neighbourhood that needed them; it was that easy to get involved! I would like to congratulate the people of Israel for understanding that
What an inspiration
working from when the children's parents drop them off in the early morning to when they collect them in the evening
there is a bigger picture; we must do all we can to ensure that the paint does not run.