Editor’s Note: This past school year, Alon and Gida, students in the Ben Yehuda School for children with special needs and Stav and Noam, students in the Tali Bet Chinuch School, were selected by their teachers to write about their experiences in LOTEM, an organization in Israel that offers hikes and educational nature activities to people with disabilities. Alon, Goda, Stav and Noam’s program brings together children with disabilities and those from a regular education class. They also wrote as a group about their experience. One of the students from the regular education class wrote while the other children dictated. Then Alisa Bodner, who works with both LOTEM and its partner, The Jewish National Fund, translated the piece into English and indicated which student made individual remarks.
We are students from the Tali Bet Chinuch School and the Ben Yehuda School. We are between the ages of 13-14. In our group is Alon, age 13, who loves to play soccer and Gida, age 14, who loves to hike and belly dance. Stav, age 13, loves to read, dance, sing and hike and Noam, age 14, loves to hike and help others.
We participated in a joint program called Natural Integration with the organization LOTEM, in cooperation with Makom LeKulam. In the first encounter, the students from Bet Chinuch came to Ben Yehuda. We played games to get to know one another and planned a joint hike together. The second encounter took place in KKL-JNF’s Ayalon Park Canada. We hiked together on the trails and had different activities through which we learned about our surroundings. Throughout the hike, we ran together hand-in-hand. We really enjoyed.
After the hike, we prepared food in the field, including pizza, croissants, chocolate treats and vegetables. When we were on the bus returning to our schools we had a desire for more …
The third encounter was in KKL-JNF’s Aminadav Forest. In this encounter we learned sign language and how to sing songs using different hand motions. We learned Braille and even how to say in sign language, “Happy Passover”. After the hike, we had a closing ceremony. Our classmates from the two schools spoke about their experiences from this project. Jay Ruderman, who funded this project through the Ruderman Foundation, attended the ceremony. We felt honored to meet him.
Each one of us learned many new things. Noam learned a life lesson that it is possible to take positive things from each person. “We need to accept differences regardless of who the person is. The children from ‘Ben Yehuda’ have such happiness for life. They have such strong willpower and they do not give up- even in difficulty. This is something I need to take upon myself.”
Alon learned much from the instruction of Shai, his guide from LOTEM. He really enjoyed the hikes. “I gave the gift to Jay. I felt good giving it to him.”
Gida had fun hiking with the students from Bet Chinuch. “The most fun was the activity when we made ‘Happy Passover’ cards with sign language.”
One of the most prominent things that Stav learned is that there is no such thing as a “normal” person. “Everybody is different, everybody is unique”.
Each one of us enjoyed very much the hikes and encounters. We got to know new and unique people. We would like to thank very much Jay Ruderman for his contribution, the LOTEM guides who were with us and the different people who supported us through the difficulties.