This past winter, LOTEM – Making Nature Accessible organized a hike for both Plagim School's Keren Or (Ray of Light) special needs class and fifth grade regular education class. Two students, one with special needs (Rom) and one from the regular education class (Gal), shared their experiences in a conversation with LOTEM on what going out to nature means to them.
Gal: My name is Gal. I live in Yokneam. I am almost 11 years old. I study in the Plagim School and am in fifth grade. When I was in fourth grade, I began to help out in the Keren Or class. Slowly I started to become friends with the students. The teacher even told me that other students have started paying more attention to the children in Keren Or and now almost all the other students in my class also want to help with the Keren Or class. I like to play soccer and I also like extreme activities like riding on a tractor and motorcycle.
Rom: I am Rom. I am 11 and-a-half years old. I am in fifth grade. I love to play soccer. I live in Megiddo. I was born in Belgium. I moved to Israel because this is the place for the Jewish people. I am lucky that I only have a light form of cerebral palsy. There are a lot of places I would love to hike in. I am not able to. It is very frustrating. They are not for me. There was a two-day hike with my kibbutz to the Negev where they slept in the desert. It was a lot of walking. They came back with stories. I very much wanted to join but I could not. Sometimes I feel lonely. When everybody is doing activities that I can’t do it makes me feel sad. It’s frustrating.
Last month, we went on a hike with LOTEM. First, we went to Emek HaShalom. All the activities were fun. It is fun to hike with friends and to integrate different classes. We made "grass-heads" (a decorative craft project using grass seeds that grow like hair). Mine is in the classroom and it has really grown. I just watered it. I felt like I belonged and that I could do everything. We do not get to do this every day. It’s important that everybody can hike because one cannot stay inside all the time. You need to experience different things that are new to you. You can go to a mall but to see pretty flowers and bugs and unique things in nature like trees, that is totally different. It makes me feel good. We are indoors and then suddenly we go out: It’s like freedom. We leave our school. There is no child who will say that it is not fun. I feel less limited in nature. It’s fun to feel like everybody else.
Gal: I also enjoyed the hike. The fact that the two classes hiked together made it more fun for the Keren Or class. They felt that it does not mean anything that they have disabilities and that they can be with us and be like everybody. They did not feel different. It was more important for me to join the hike with Keren Or than to stay with my class because when you are with Keren Or, you are contributing something. You feel like they are not different and that they can do everything we do. If they would have been alone on the hike then they would have thought they were not as good or that their hike was less good. This way they saw that we love them regardless of their disabilities. It is difficult to see them with disabilities because they are good children. They are always happy. They don’t deserve what they have since they have never done anything bad to anybody.
Rom: Everybody has limitations.
Gal: For people with limitations they can’t walk like a “regular” person. It’s difficult for them to walk in the rain. I would like to know how this feels for one day.
Rom: I very much want to feel what a “regular” person feels.
Gal: I read a story about starfish. There were many starfish on the sand and a man came by and one by one, started throwing each starfish back into the water. A child came up to the man and asked why he is throwing the starfish back into the sea if there are thousands of them. The man replied that he is making a difference even for the few starfish that are back in the sea. That is how I feel. I don’t want those kids to be the starfish who are left behind.
Especially for the children of Keren Or, it is important that they will not be in their homes for too much time. Most of the time they are either home or in the classroom and it’s hard for them that they can’t be outdoors like everybody else. They can be more calm in nature than if they are in the classroom and do what they want, which makes them feel that they can do everything like everybody else. It’s like flying overseas, it’s something new for them. I get to experience nature often since I don’t have a disability but for them it’s something important. There are girls in the Keren Or class who wait for nature outings and are always asking when the next one will be.
Rom: I wish that for me and for them that we will not have our difficulty anymore and secondly, if I had any wish then I would save my wish for an emergency situation.
LOTEM is the leading organization in Israel providing accessible hikes and educational nature activities to people with special needs. A JNF partner organization, LOTEM serves over 30,000 participants a year. For more information see www.lotem.net.