The NGO, Hakol Chai, which works to prevent and relieve animal suffering in
Israel, has developed a full humane education curriculum to be implemented this
fall in 60 northern Arab schools.
Hakol Chai, the Israeli sister charity
of the US-based Concern for Helping Animals in Israel, began the initiative last
October as an 11-lesson pilot program, supported by the Education Ministry, in
13 Arab schools. The project’s aim is to prevent children’s violent behavior
“Four months into the pilot, the ministry said it was
working,” the organization’s founder, Nina Natelson, told The Jerusalem Post
“Teachers said that children who had been harming animals were
self-reporting and said they wanted to stop.”
Natelson, who lives in the
United States, founded Hakol Chai after a visit to Israel in 1983, when she saw
“tremendous animal suffering.”
“I remember being on the beach in Eilat,
and there was a dog there. I started feeding him,” she recalled. “People on the
beach asked me why I’m feeding this dog, he looks sick. That was exactly why I
was feeding him.”
In addition to sending equipment to shelters in Israel,
the NGO always believed in education as a key tool to prevent animal abuse. One
of the first initiatives the group undertook was a creative project for children
nationwide, involving animals.
Approaching Arab children on the subject
of animals, Natelson said, requires a unique teaching method.
don’t have a lot of experience with animals as in-home companions,” she
explained. “There is a difference between the knowledge and familiarity level
that Israelis and Arabs have [with] animals.”
Because of this
characteristic, Hakol Chai’s lesson plan focuses not only on animals, but on the
idea of compassion in general.
“We know there is a connection between
violence toward people and violence toward animals,” the group’s founder stated.
“Studies have proven there is a link between these two things, so in the
program, we’d rather talk about the kid’s relationship with other
The lesson plan involves having pupils draw “circles of
compassion.” First, they are asked to determine whom and what they care most
about and feel closest to. Then, the children discuss things they don’t care
about – who or what does not fall into in any of the circles of
In addition, they ponder the question, “How does is feel to
be treated well by someone in your closest circle, and how does it feel to be
treated badly?” They are also taught to “exercise the muscle of putting yourself
in someone else’s shoes.” The children are encouraged to share their feelings
about animals who live in their communities, and learn “not to take out their
own painful feelings on those smaller and weaker.”
The program is
entirely conducted by the classes’ regular teachers, who receive training from
Hakol Chai during annual conferences.
After discussions on the issues and
class projects focusing on humane animal treatment, the pupils re-draw their
circles of compassion.
“We want to empower children to create a world
they feel safe and happy to live in,” Natelson said. “We want to teach them that
their daily choices make a difference – they affect people and animals
Her colleague Rae Sikora, who developed the curriculum, told
the Post that cultural and religious beliefs influence the topic of animal
treatment and constitute a significant challenge when putting together a lesson
“You can’t have a cookiecutter program that works everywhere. It
depends on the culture and on what that culture is ready for,” Sikora explained.
“But there is a commonality in the process of opening our hearts, which is the
same in every culture, every person.”
She added, “We all have the ability
to open our hearts and minds. The program, in a nutshell, is about who or what
we care about and how we want it to look in our lives.”
continued, due to cultural backgrounds, a conflict exists between “what a child
has in his heart and what goes on in his home.”
“I grew up with that,”
she added. “I wanted to live a life caring for animals. My family had trouble
She said she had never planned to work in animal welfare.
Growing up, she was afraid of animals and would panic at the sight of a dog in
the street. One day, in an attempt to help her conquer her fear, her father gave
her a puppy he had picked up from a shelter.
“I was terrified,” Sikora
recalled. “But one day I looked in his eyes, and I saw that the dog was as
scared as I was, he was scared of me. So then we became friends.”
25 years of experience in humane education, she said, she has seen “much pain
and suffering in the darkest corners of planet.”
“What keeps me doing the
work is the knowledge that people’s hearts are really good,” she said. “When I
see people open to it and starting to care, it’s like the fuel that keeps me
going. It is such a gift.”
She has had “to re-define wealth to deal with
this work,” she added.
“The biggest currency of all is to see a program
like this working,” she said. “That is worth more than any money.”