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It was a pleasure to greet ten Betar Shnat participants (eight boys and two girls) from Melbourne and Queensland, Australia accompanied by their leader, Kfir, at the WIZO Australia-sponsored flagship project Ahuzat Yeladim, where they enjoyed an interactive and fun morning with the students at the youth village.

I spoke briefly about the wide range of services that WIZO provides for the citizens of Israel, through its 800 projects, from its beginnings until the present day and explained that WIZO in Israel is partnered by a worldwide network of federations that raise funds and awareness in support of their sponsored WIZO projects in Israel. Two of the gap year students were proud to tell me that they had aunties who supported WIZO. Director Yossi Saragosi gave an overview of the school, explaining that it gave a much-needed opportunity for disadvantaged youth to repair their lives in a warm and secure framework, where all their needs are addressed. At Ahuzat Yeladim, the youngsters find stability, safety, the opportunity to learn with individual learning programs, various therapies, extra-curriculum activities and a team of counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists to support them towards a meaningful future.

We participated in an English lesson with some rather spirited fourteen and fifteen year olds, discussing how we would celebrate Rosh Hashana. One of the Ahuzat Yeladim students was doing his very best to shock me with his boldness and bravado but I told him that I was the mother of boys and I had heard it all before. As I looked around the class and saw the connection and interaction between the Shnat kids and the students all social differences dissipated and I just saw youth having great fun and learning from each other.

Shlomit, the English teacher gave me the most wonderful quote, which typifies the youngsters at Ahuzat Yeladim. She said, “All children are diamonds; but some diamonds already shine bright and some need a little extra polishing.”

Afterwards, the Shnat students played soccer with the Ahuzat students before we went back inside with Yossi to one of the dormitory blocks, where he answered questions from the group. The girls in the group remarked how lovely the dorms were – better than what they were staying on Shnat. I pointed out the beautiful quilts on the beds made with love from WIZO Australia chaverot.

We visited the bakery, where students were learning how to make the special round Rosh Hashana Challot, and the teacher kindly gave the group two boxes of delicious tchina cookies to take home with them.

Afterwards, we went into the newly renovated Pets Corner and met the rabbits, the budgies and the attractive white parrot, a recent gift from WIZO Australia. One of the boys in the group remarked that educational facilities in Australia could learn from Ahuzat Yeladim.

All too soon, it was time to go, but I know that the impression the group took with them was one that they will share with others. I watched their faces as they listened to Yossi explaining that to understand the kids one must take into account the failings in their family background and to work with the family, wherever possible, for the best interests of the child. I took note of the pertinent questions they asked him. Yossi told them that every child is treated as his own and that all the staff feel that way.

Yossi also gave them many examples of the wholehearted and altruistic support of WIZO Australia that made such a beneficial difference to all those who benefitted from this life-enhancing and indeed life-saving project.

It was poignant, too, on the way back to the car park that some of the group stopped in their tracks to gaze down at the Road of Hope and see the names of grandmas and who had donated to this wonderful project. “We had no idea,” they said. “Now we know what WIZO is all about. Everything makes sense now.”

It was a morning well spent for me, too. To bring people to see WIZO projects reinforces my own WIZO connection, because when we are proud of the work we do, we simply want to share it with everyone!

Tricia Schwitzer

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