The long train of recent Jewish festivals has ended. Life has returned to normal and routine has set in once again. Parents are back to work and kids are back to school. In Israel, the school day works differently than abroad. Children attend school in the morning and once the clock hits 1pm, lessons are over and the excitement begins. Afternoons are spent engaged in a wide range of 'chugim' (extra-curricular activities). From swimming to football, from ballet to art—a plethora of educational and fun activities are on offer… for the children whose parents can afford it.
But what about those who cannot afford it? What about the families who face extreme economic hardships? What do their children do? Leading Israeli relief organization, Meir Panim
, recognizes this gap and for the last 8 years has provided a much-needed solution to over 300 needy children in cities across Israel. Four days a week, Meir Panim
's network of free after-school clubs offers children between the ages of six and thirteen a respite from the inevitable challenges faced at home. The children are provided with a warm and supportive environment where they can gain important life skills and at the same time really enjoy themselves.
All sorts of workshops are on offer at these after-school clubs, including martial arts, self-defense, dance, computers and art—run by professional staff and an army of volunteers. There is a homework corner for those who need help and qualified teachers work individually with each child, giving him the attention he needs. The children can also take part in specialized therapies such as music, dance and animal therapy, and for so many of them who are experiencing stressful home situations, this is vital. In addition, before they leave for home, a nourishing hot meal is served— which is often the only proper meal many of the children will be receiving that day.
And it is not just the children who benefit from this protective environment. One of the beautiful aspects about Meir Panim
is that those running each center really know their families. The director of each branch understands the individual struggles of each family and therefore a holistic framework is on offer so that the whole family is taken care of. Once a week, while their children are at the after-school clubs, many parents attend a coaching session, run by a licensed counselor. They receive guidance in the fields of parenting, relationships and financial management, and for the large immigrant community that Meir Panim
works with, cultural activities to help parents integrate into Israeli society are also included in the session.
All too often, in the absence of a structured framework, the road to deterioration is an inevitable one. Meir Panim
strives to prevent Israel's disadvantaged population from reaching this point by addressing important family needs.