Friday, March 11, 2011

Director's Report Feb 27th to March 11th

• Spring Semester students are continuing a volunteer project that was started by our students from last year working with Sudanese refugee children in Eilat. This week, one of the student organizers, Inna Filkovski presented the project to staff members. There is a Sudanese refugee community living in Eilat. The total number of Sudanese refugees in Eilat is unclear. There is a strong distrust of Israelis authorities so they don’t reveal numbers. Because Eilat residence view the Sudanese refugees as a threat to their jobs and because the Israeli government has not stepped in to provide funding for welfare services the Eilat municipality has decided to ignore the refugees and provide social services for the adults nor for the children. Some children study in school and some don not . But there is no afternoon program for the children. The policy of the municipality does not allow the social workers to attend activities with/for Sudanese.

     Despite the animosity in Eilat towards the refugees, the students of the Arava Institute have stepped into the void and are trying to provide afterschool environmental activities. The students go to the refugee neighborhood once a week. The program was started by Assaf Katz in fall 2009 and ran all year. This year's student's decided to continue the program. The weekly is on Sundays from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The children are of various ages (from 5-15). About 15 children attend on regular basis. There are approximately 25 children in the building. The activity takes place in an abandoned building in the Sudanese refugee neighborhood because the community centers in Eilat will not allow the activities to take place on their premises.
     The program includes strengthening English skills with an emphasis on environment, recycling, reducing using environmental games like bowling with recycled bottles, identifying animals, and arts and crafts using local material. The kibbutzim in the area have donated material and toys for the project. About 15 Arava students were involved last semester, even more are participating this semester. The fact that many Palestinian and Jordanian students are involved is helpful because the Sudanese speak Arabic.
• Visits: A group from the Holy Land Trust, 15 college students visitied the Arava Institute this week. Cecil Rimer spoke in morning. Dr. Tariq Abu Hamed did walk through the park. Intro to PELS with Michelle Shachar , Sharón Benheim held a student panel (which also served the Ramah group staying in Keren Kolot).
     A group of students from LeSalle University, a university with campuses around the world vsiited the institute and met with students. This group was from Philladelphia and from Brazil. They are on a program looking at sustainability through community.
     Karen Shapiro, member of the Friends of the Arava Institute, her husband Doug Frazer, Israel Ride alum, Doug's parents, Karen's mother and Nathan Frazer visited the institute. David Frazer, Doug's father facilitated the May Mann Estate donation which funded the May Mann Campus and the May Mann laboratory. The family was taken on a tour of the institute, the new Research and Visitors Park, the new Arava Power Company solar panel field and the dorms. The family also had the opportunity to hear from a student panel.
• The new group of students, although already busy with their classes in their second week at AIES, have initiated a number of extracurricular activities. Last night was the first Women's Circle of the semester, held around a campfire on the night of International Women's Day and attended by the female students and staff members. Continuing students from last semester facilitated a space for personal communication and invited each one present to speak about a woman who influences and inspires them. Many women shared what qualities they admire in the women who influence them, and later a staff member who attended told them that in order to recognize such admirable qualities in others, the female students certainly embody the qualities themselves. In addition they were invited to share the difficulties in a new place and to see the circle as a safe space of support and listening. The evening ended with rolling out dough and making pita over the fire, and the women were encouraged to continuing asking themselves the questions which had come up and to seek each other out for individual communication and reflection, as well as invited to facilitate future Women's Circles. Cathie Granit, Program Director, who attended the event said: "The women’s circle was fantastic. It made me feel excited about the students we have this semester, at least the women. We have a dynamic, energized, active bunch this semester. They seem to have good follow through." Reported by Lindsey Zemler

David Lehrer

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