By Vanessa Friedman
Oh my goodness, this is our last full week in Haifa…can you believe it? I can’t! Our farewell to this amazing city is quite bittersweet: we’re all upset to be leaving the place we’ve called home for the past few months, but as always, saying goodbye makes one appreciate everything that much more. We’ve become very involved in the community here on a micro and a macro level, and as we say goodbye to people and places that mean a lot to us, it’s good to remember that we have made an impact on a large level.
Focusing on the big picture is actually the perfect way to introduce Ariel Sternberg and her volunteer work. She has spent her time in Haifa volunteering at Ironi Aleph School, a women’s shelter, the children’s hospital at Rambam Medical Center, and Gan Hayeled Haifa, a disabled children’s playground. Ariel, while talking about the hospital and Gan Hayeled, explained that while she has contact with individual children and adults at each location, she feels that her greatest task is to help each site function on a large scale. This is a great description of how all the OTZMA volunteers help out in Haifa.
Ariel visits Gan Hayeled twice a week, working with two different age groups, the 5 year olds and the 7 year olds. The children are given the opportunity to do a series of four different fun activities, all specifically geared toward kids with special needs. These stations include a garden, a petting zoo, a cooking class, and a yoga lesson. Ariel spends the morning with a single class and often focuses her attention on a specific child who might need some extra encouragement or affection on that day. The children like to tell her English words they know to impress her; “I hear ‘goodnight’ and ‘blue’ a lot,” she giggles.
At the hospital, Ariel often doesn’t hear any English words. “Many of the kids there only speak Arabic, but luckily you don’t need to speak the same language to do arts and crafts together.” Ariel works with the kids at the hospital, who range from newborn to age 18, in a classroom that is provides a fun and safe space for kids battling sadness or boredom while they are sick. As well as work with the kids, she helps Ofira, the woman in charge of this room, keep it looking clean and beautiful; sometimes this involves tidying up a mess, and sometimes it involves making over 100 tissue paper flowers to decorate the room with. It’s all in a day’s volunteering!
But as with all our volunteering, things have to come to an end. It’s not goodbye forever, though. “I love Haifa,” Ariel said. “I feel very connected to the city.” We may be leaving next week, but we’ve made a connection that is going to last a lifetime, and I feel confident in saying we will all be back to visit. I’ll be writing one more blog post to conclude our incredible stay in Haifa—get the tissues ready for that one, because I know I’ll need them…Lehitraot!