Overnight Camp for Children with Special Needs Breaks Barriers.
(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
As her friends applauded and shouted encouragement, a 12 year-old girl was assisted out of her wheelchair and with the help of a volunteer, she climbed a ladder made of ropes, using her arms to pull herself up. In another part of the camp, another child left his crutches behind and somehow walked a tightrope stretched between two trees as everyone else waited for their turn. The two children were participating in a three-day summer camp for children with special needs hosted by the Etgarim NGO and KKL-JNF at KKL-JNF’s Tzipori Field and Forest Center
in the Lower Galilee. In addition to the many and varied activities, special emphasis was also placed on forestry and environmental activities, in accordance with KKL-JNF’s mission.
“This is the largest activity of its kind that KKL-JNF has ever hosted,” said Dudu Ashkenazi
, Training and Activities Director at the KKL-JNF Education Division
, “and it would never have happened if not for the support of the Toronto Golf Club, which raised money for this activity at their 2015 gold tournament. Together with additional friends of JNF Canada
, they also helped finance camps for children with cancer and for victims of terror.
“It’s really important for these children to take part in outdoor activities because they spend a lot of their time in close quarters. KKL-JNF counselors are also working with the children and leading activities focused on Zionism and Israel’s environment, values that are of primary importance to KKL-JNF. Setting up a camp like this for special needs children demands a lot of investment, and I want our friends in Canada to know that it does miracles for the kids.”
Etgarim ('challenges' in Hebrew) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment and social integration of special needs populations through outdoor sports. Founded in 1995 by a group of disabled veterans of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), disabled civilians and senior rehabilitation professionals, Etgarim enables special needs individuals – children, adolescents and adults – to engage in challenging sports and outdoor activities, and through this activity, to be rehabilitated physically, mentally and socially. Today over 5,000 youth and 1000 adults are enrolled in Etgarim programs.
According to Erez Siglev, the camp director, “a lot of planning goes into a camp like this. Every night there are 160 children sleeping in tents in the forest, a first-time experience for them. They don’t want to go to sleep, it’s much more interesting to tell each other jokes and gossip about the counselors. During the day, there are almost 400 children enjoying the various activities. It’s so wonderful to be able to provide them with such an experience.”
Lior Shorer, who volunteers with Etgarim, added that the goal of ODT - outdoor training - “is to give the campers physical and mental challenges, and to afford them opportunities to function as a group. There are competitions based on the Survivors TV reality show, walking on water, biking through the forest or at the camp on special bicycles, and much more.”
Maor, (18), is a person with special needs who now works as a counselor in Etgarim. “I help children do challenging activities with ropes in the center of the country, and I want to be a professional counselor. This is what I like doing, because it makes me happy to see smiles on people’s faces.”
KKL-JNF – Information and Internet Department